Part 1. I have written so little about my sweetheart. It is not that there isn’t a lot to say or that she doesn’t interest me anymore. Very much the contrary. My partner, M and I have been together 23 years. I still adore her, as I did at the beginning. Our 23rd anniversary of what we both count as our first date, just passed less than a month ago– although it was a day taken up by the Jewish holiday with barely a moment to note it as an anniversary.
Actually, setting out to write this about her, pushes me harder than anything else has, since beginning this blog– about the challenges of the convention of anonymity. It is hard to even think about her, let alone write something without declaring her first name–so worn, comfortable, simple and familiar to me. She is a working class woman, through and through. Doing things rather than talking about things is how she makes the world around her go well, and she is a workhorse in many, many ways.
Although it is clear to me that this (her endless willingness, even more than willingness, her default mode being work) isn’t always good for her–nor for the people around her, it is nonetheless an admirable thing. More admirable than many other sometimes harmful habits, let us say. I cannot match her for work, for speed of work around the house, but she keeps me honest about work and the nature of work in some way, because she just does so much of it. I do too. But it is different and not what I set out to write about here.
Part 2. Not going to a paid job every day has left me a bigger space to tackle some parts of the good work of mothering. What do I want to have offered my daughter and my family at the end of each day? What does she really need from me to survive an oppressive world, to flourish as a person, to recover from her own losses and to have a good perspective on the world and the crazy things that go on around us all, all the time? I am thinking not romantically, but more strategically about the work of mothering. If you have no idea of what I am talking about here are two examples. It has become clear to me that in order to help with certain things I need to really understand her perspective. And after some trial and error, I have figured out that if I get her right after school and either walk or drive her home– with absolutely no other agenda– no groceries to buy, no mail to mail, no need to get my dry cleaning or a prescription– she will talk honestly to me about what is percolating about her day. I do not succeed every day, but I have tried to organize this time, so that I can pick her up with my time and my mind organized around that one thing– a free space to hear her out. When it works it’s quite remarkable. It’s a luxury but I also view it as a very disciplined piece of my work as a mother, which for now doesn’t have to compete quite so much with all the other things of my day and my life. So I am trying to tackle that piece of work, over and over. I also have people who I think are smarter and more knowledgeable than I am about parenting and young people who remind me over and over that active play and laughter are part of the grease that keeps the machine of our relationships working with young people. Or something like that. So I am more regularly building in time to play chase, pillow fights, wrestle. It’s a hustle but a real pleasure; a hustle worth hustling to do.
Part 3. I don’t know what I want to do next work-wise. I will not write about all the things that have crossed my mind at this point. But I am thinking as deeply as I know how to about the question.
Part 4. All of this reminds me of a poem though, which seems worth posting here. There are so many poems that are so familiar to me it feels almost cliché to refer to them– they were so much part of the fabric of my first learning poetry, feminism and learning things about how to think for myself, what do I actually think? Yet some of these wonderful poems are not at the forefront these days. I am close to many younger people who are fellow or sister travelers, writers, readers, who have never heard of many of the things that are standards for me. Actually, for the record, my friend D who is among my closest, oldest, most beloved and reliable friends, lost a close friend of hers recently– a 44-year-old woman, mother of twin 7 1/2- year-old daughters. She posted this poem on something she had written about her lost friend which brought it back to my mind.
To be of use
by Marge Piercy
The people I love the best jump into work head first without dallying in the shallows and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight. They seem to become natives of that element, the black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags along, who stand in the line and haul in their places, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc. First published in Lunch magazine.