I fell in love with the south wind again today. I stretched my arms overhead as it teased down the back of my neck, all warm, electric and promising.
We need the rain, everyone says, or the rivers will run too low to protect the life within, sustain the world without. I’ve yet to find myself at the river this season, sprawled alongside, book in hand, sunshine heat permeating my body, cell phone useless. I like to read until the heat makes me so dizzy the words swim and then I must, too, the shock of the cold water bringing me back into myself, reminding me how joyous it is to be alive.
I’ve been longing for a river moment the way I like to breathe and need to eat. The past few weeks, months, years – how do I say “have been hard” artfully and in a way that does not fall into complaining? Whenever I start, the awareness of how simultaneously lucky I am and how much worse so many people have it kicks in. Gratitude inhibits my ability to express myself. Like moms who haven’t yet learned to say, “Some days my kids make me crazy,” without adding, always, “but, of course, being a mom is the best thing in the world.” But being a mom is only sometimes the best thing in the world and some days I just want to stomp my feet and say, “Universe! Give me a fucking break!” Except the problems are mostly of my own making – overdrawn again?! – which is almost worse since I have only myself to blame and definitely better because at least with blame comes hope for change.
We are hard on ourselves, mothers. People keep congratulating me on being “done” because my youngest just graduated high school. As if I can straighten up, brush off my hands and say, “Yep, aced that.” I wish I could. The thing about “done” and parenthood, however, is you’re not. Sure, some things are easier. I never have to do that manic breakfast-get-your-stuff-together race to get there on time. Hallelujah!
When children grow into successful adults, we’re grateful to have wound up with such fine, mature decision-makers. When they struggle to find their way, every mistake we made over the years flares up in our memories. “If only I’d… instead.” And the thing about being “done” is all opportunity is lost. Whatever bad days I had can no longer be compensated for with cupcakes or a trip to the zoo. At this point, all I can say is, I tried. But I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to ace it.
I think my children will be fine. They’re smart, kind, funny and interested in the world. (And too old for me to write in detail any more.) But one of the frustrations of parenting is, you already have a road map. You’re like a crazy person on the side of the road waving this dog-eared and creased piece of paper. “Don’t go that way!” you’re yelling, as they zoom past you, intent on finding their own way, heedless of the roadblocks and dead ends that you’re trying to spare them. I already made all those mistakes, I say, but no one listens. At the end of the day, the only person who is going to learn from my life is me.
And so melancholy sneaks in. A few weeks ago, I spent time with my oldest daughter in Long Beach, where we lived together from the time she was six months old till she was almost four. She spent a week in the hospital there, riddled with croup. We’d trip around downtown for the free concerts and farmers’ markets. I’d take her to work with me during the day – I helped out the talent booker at a live music club while my daughter took markers to the backs of flyers and pulled gum off the bottoms of the tables when I wasn’t looking. But the club is long gone, razed to make way for a Best Buy. The interior design school that brought me to Long Beach, closed down. The Italian restaurant where I waitressed, pregnant with my second, an empty structure in which all traces of existence have been erased.
But the coffeehouse survived, as did our favorite café. Downtown renovation brought in a discouraging number of chain stores, but the up-and-coming artsy areas have solidified into something cool. My daughter has to find her own path, but her legs are strong and my love for her never yields.
I haven’t been to the river yet. But I did find myself in Shelter Cove yesterday with friends new and old, bright sky and sunshine warming up the beach so sweetly the girls wore bikinis and the guys trunked it on their surfboards. The waves rolled in all of waist-high on the best sets, but the best sets were also perfect and blue and beautiful. I caught a set wave and rode it to shore, where I flopped into the churning shallows to the entertainment of my friends. The remnants of the wave carried my board forth, parked it on the pebbly beach. I wiped sand off my face and dug it out of my ears, a gritty reminder that made me laugh.
I’ve been struggling to write, too many adjectives and no sense of story. I’ve been struggling, period, between the good times – the vagueness makes me crazy. What happens when I let the words out, however, is the thoughts streamline, the negative dissipates and my apparently innate optimism once again takes root. Hence, this.
Now I’m ready for the rain.