Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Long Post That Should Be Broken Up but I Can't Seem To Do It

Alternate title: Thoughts on Having Lived Here Almost Two Years


When I was little, my father worked with two other men. All three had intelligent wives, ambitious in that ambivalent early-60s smart woman way. Between 1963 and 1967, they each had two children. I don't think anyone was the best of friends, but the families were connected enough that there are stories about those days and pictures--especially one of my mother and another wife pushing me and the other wife's son in our strollers at a march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Eventually all three couples divorced, like couples did back then, the other two by the early 70s, my parents in the mid-80s. The fathers drifted apart, professionally and personally, but my mother and one of the ex-wives have seen each other on and off over the years, and my mother ran into the other ex-wife a few months ago.

The children's lives have intersected intermittently. We went, in various combinations, to the same grade schools, high schools, Hebrew schools. One daughter danced with my sister (am I making that up?). Another daughter was a good friend of mine in high school and right after. The sole boy went to college with one of my closest friends who has brought us together every few years--she visited us both in California, and our daughters played together gleefully at her wedding. When we moved back to East Coast Big City, I discovered that another daughter lives just a few blocks from me, and now our lives intersect in the minutiae of Town mom life. To show just how very close the world in which I grew up remains: this woman's husband made the sign for the restaurant where S works, because another childhood friend of ours is married to S's boss's wife's brother.


When we said that we were leaving No Longer Red State Capital City Suburb, our friends who had moved there for work were surprised. But our neighborhood friends understood immediately. Almost all of them are from No Longer Red State. They mend lawnmowers for their aunts on Sunday afternoons, leave their children with grandparents for the weekend, celebrate every birthday with the same big family dinner. Of course we were going back to Blue State, they said, we were going home.


In No Longer Red State I always worried about who to put down as emergency contacts when I filled out permission slips for the girls. Do you ask someone if they are willing, or do you just write down their name? After a while, it was obvious to put down J and J, because they became our local family, the friends we left our kids with, celebrated birthdays and holidays with, sat around and did nothing with. And it's not surprising that they are the friends we miss with that grip in the stomach feeling we used to get in No Longer Red State when we thought about the east coast.

Now I don't think twice about emergency contacts: grandmother, then grandmother, and, if there's a third space, grandfather.

Has anyone ever needed their emergency contacts? Especially in the cell phone era?


I wondered what would happen when we moved back home. Would we discover that we had nothing in common with our old friends? Would we make new friends? Did we really want to spend that much time with our families?

Here's how it's working, so far:

I think one set of grandparents wishes they could see us more, and the other sees us as much as they want (this is not because we see one set of grandparents more, but because they are different). The third set of grandparents comes and goes, and we definitely see them more than we would if we weren't here. We see my sister a good amount. We should see S's sister and brother more, but we all acknowledge the complicated timing of modern working parent life.

We see some of our old friends more, and some less (modern working parent life), but they remain our (my) emotional rocks.

We have made many new friends, in the neighborhood and at work, and we spend the most time with them, because they are right there.

What is striking, and what I did not expect, is how many people we used to know are still here. We run into them on the street, in the subway, at work, at synagogue. Some of them we reconnect with, some we just say hello, but they are always there, this interknotted net surrounding our life, past intersecting with present.


I mentioned my friend M the other day, and my mother asked who she was. She's one of the people who wouldn't know if I died, I replied, and my mother nodded in recognition. M and I met when our daughters auditioned for a movie. We discovered that we have some work in common, and every month or so we have lunch or coffee and discuss work and life. We haven't met each other's husbands or children, though we know all about them. But M's husband went to my high school, and she went to the same high school as my friend A, and we both know Lucy's sister and her boyfriend, and that's what it's like to live here.


Local K, a new friend who has become an emotional rock, shakes her head when we run into yet another person I used to know.


Traditionally, this was one of the big problems with East Coast Big City: that it was insular and ran on the grease of who you went to school with, who your grandparents knew, how long your family had been here. Now it is changing, thank goodness, but there is still some of that.


One of the ex-wives has cancer, terminal. Last week I went to a poetry reading and art exhibit that was, implicitly, in her honor. For many years, she has rented a cabin in the country next door to another woman who is the widow of a good friend of my mother's. They are both poets, and their artist and poet friends have gathered at their cabins every summer to draw, paint, photograph, write, swim, eat.

Their houses are on the lake I went to as a small child, just a few miles from the lake we went to from when I was five till I was nineteen (at the end of that summer my parents divorced and we never went there again). The poems and paintings and photographs at the poetry reading and art exhibit were inspired by the cabins and lake and meadow. One painting looked just like the farmer's house on the road by our lake. I felt all the summers of my childhood come back.

The poet's daughter, who was my friend in high school and right after, read a poem and a memoir. She wrote about how she didn't make art at the cabin, she raised her daughter, raised her to be her own person. I'm not sure I'm raising my daughters to be their own people, I think I'm raising them to be like me: to read, to eat too much ice cream, to check email obsessively, to love the Red Sox and hate the war, to love their friends and their family. But if they want to be their own people, that will be OK too. So long as they still hate the Yankees.

1 comment:

jackie said...

This "long post" reads like an essay draft to me, and one I would love to read in essay form someday. It resonated a lot with me because we live in our "home" city now, with three sets of grandparents close by, plus two aunts and an uncle for my girls. My husband grew up here and sees childhood friends all over the city, and now we live in the same neighborhood, almost, that he did. One of the (many) reasons I struggle with the academic decision is that our roots have sunk so deep in this city now I can't imagine ever leaving.