Long ago night
I went back to scrubbing a toilet bowl that was colored a horrible mauve. So was the plastic shower inset, and tub. I went back to a time in my mind. To a place. It was a long time ago. Before David and I met. Before my girls were a reality.
I worked for a designer, and we had an extensive Bridal collection that we made, and sold out of Bergdorf Goodman. It was really exciting being in the garment district, and dealing with sewers, and buying fabrics. I would go to all of the same fabric places that sold to all of the big designers, and they would always catch me sneaking peeks at what they were buying. I loved being on a first name basis with the buyers. I thought it was so cool when the editor of Martha Stewart Living was always trying to set me up with someone. It was a heady time, and it all became just the way it was.
We did a lot of work with Colin Cowie. He is a pretty well known event planner, and designer, among other things. He had asked us to design a dress for the cover of his upcoming book. He needed it in three days. I said yes, on a Friday, without even finding out if it was even possible, and three sleepless nights later, it was on a beautiful model, being shot for the cover.
His book was almost done, except he had one more chapter he needed to complete. He asked us if we knew anyone that wanted a free wedding, in exchange for it being shot for his book. They had to let him call the shots. Shockingly, every bride to be we knew was not interested.
So he decided to fabricate a wedding. It would be in my boss's apartment, and it would be this great party, with all of his friends there as the guests, and I was asked to play the bride. I was thrilled at the chance to be immortalized in a book. I asked my college friend Dutch to be the groom. It was shot in the Fall. I remember I had a small pimple on my cheek, and I felt fat, and wasn't happy about how I looked. I almost backed out.
As I looked at myself in the awful mauve bathroom, I wished for a moment, I could see that beautiful girl staring back at me. If only for a minute.
I don't want to be that girl anymore. But I would love to wear that powder blue silk shantung gown, and the diamonds borrowed from Van Cleef and Arpels again. And the champagne. All of that lovely champagne.
My most precious gift
After the "score", I wandered into the shop next to the shoe store, and started checking out the clearance rack. There, was a beautiful, flowing, girly girl, summer dress. It was long, and made of cotton. It was all different colors. It was magical. It was something that I never, in a bazillion years needed,or would have purchased for myself, but oh, it was pretty. I even pictured how I would wear my hair, and the sandals I had at home that would match perfectly with it.
David popped into the store, after paying for the shoes, and saw me eyeballing it. It was marked down to nearly nothing, compared to it's original price. David loved it, and said, "Get it. We just saved more than that on the shoes, so just treat yourself, and get it". I refused. Much too frivolous. And unnecessary. And it could pay for diapers, or gas. I just couldn't justify it. I saw David look disappointed, and I got it. He wanted me to do something for myself. But I really just couldn't let myself do it. My anxiety over the purchase would have eclipsed the happiness that a pretty summer dress might have delivered.
David loves records. When I first met him, I thought it was kind of cool that he had a record collection, and really enjoyed listening to the snapping, and crackling of the vinyl on the turntable. It just sounded better. Older. The music had patina to it. We fell in love listening to that turntable. Old Elton John records, and Crosby Stills, and Nash. Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz. David had a ton of jazz albums. Lots of long nights, playing hours of Scrabble, and drinking wine. Talking and telling the stories of our lives. It was everything. It was when I became we, and we became us.
The turntable moved here with us, and we listened to it so much, here in our new life. Three baby girls later, and so much between then and now. Friends, and laughter, holidays, and sad times too. Some new records purchased right here in our new town, adding to our history. We played that turntable until the belt broke, and it no longer spun. It has been silenced for a while now. We both really miss the crackling of records. Especially David. He has tried to repair it. Replaced the belt. Took it apart, all without any luck. It sits, on the shelf, and has become one of the items in the house that requires dusting now.
I really wanted to buy David a turntable for Christmas. I looked around, and new ones were out of the question. Not even close to being in the non-budget we maintain. I began checking out old, used ones, but really, I have no idea if what I am seeing is great, or garbage. And still, used ones were too pricey. I felt bad that I couldn't get him a turntable. We never exchange gifts, but I thought that maybe..you know...maybe.
Last week, we were at the mall getting the girls some Christmas gifts. I went in one store, and David went into another. I thought he was looking for a bean bag that Olivia had on her list. I walked down the aisle toward the store, and as I did, I passed by the store where that beautiful dress was. I decided to go in and sneak a peek at it, to see if it was still there. As I rounded the rack, there was David, holding the dress. THE dress. I wanted to cry. I really did. David's face dropped. He looked so disappointed that I had ruined his surprise.
I led him away from the dress, and out of the store. I took his hand, and I said, DO NOT go back there and buy that. We can't afford it. And I told him how much I loved my gift. He was going to buy me that dress, because he knew I loved it, and he loved me. And that alone was more than enough for me.
I love my new dress David. I know exactly how my hair looks in it. I even picked out the earrings I have on. We are dancing. In our living room to Van Morrison. That song we love..Linden Arden Stole the Highlights. It is playing on the turntable that I so wish I could have gotten for you. Because I know how much you love it, and I love you, and I want you to be as happy as you want me to be. And we are. Without all that stuff.
So let's enjoy this dance. Because it's Christmas. And because intention, and love, and being together, are far better gifts than anything we can hold in our hands. Isn't that what all of this is about?
Paint my masterpiece
Even after I inspected her face, and scrutinized her hands, and carefully unswaddled her to examine her tiny naked body, there was not one thing on her that she had inherited from me. Not her ears. Not her nostrils. Not the shape of her legs. Even her toes seemed foreign to me.
And so it has gone with Charlotte. Most days, when I am out with all three of my girls, it looks like I have two mini me's, and the kid next door along with us. She looks nothing like me. She is her father. Every bit of her, down to the gap in her front teeth. I love that gap, and when she flashes that smile, with the gap being even bigger at the moment, from the lack of those front teeth, it is Charlotte and her Dad smiling at me, all at the same time.
What has floored me on this parenting journey, is what you do inherit. Olivia has my inability to keep a secret. By that, I mean she has to report every bad thought, or 9 year old mean thing she might have uttered on the playground. She will become riddled with guilt, and it literally eats her alive if she doesn't. That I can say with 100% certainty she got from me. Her cheerful demeanor, and willingness to please, definitely me as well. In fact looking at how she acts at age 9 is looking into a time machine at myself at that age.
Charlotte...oh Charlotte....most days, I hear her rise for the day, and brace myself. I just never know what I am going to get. Some days, she is really tough. Moody. Whiny. One minute she's happy. The next, grumpy. That, I can say with 100% certainty, is all David.
But there is something that I clearly see as being from me. She has these ideas how something should be. She paints a picture in her mind, and literally, sees how something should go, and most of the time, winds up disappointed. And then, it's bad for everyone.
She wanted to paint. Not just sit down, and paint like they do, at the kitchen table. She wanted to paint at an easel, on a canvas, and even envisioned a palette. She rose the day she had selected, and put on her painting clothes. I swear, if there was a beret around, she would have popped it on her head. I set her up outside, and carefully squeezed out the acrylic paints on to a palette. It took her a while to decide which way she wanted to paint her vision on to the canvas. She had waited for this moment, and I knew what she was thinking. The masterpiece in her head would translate on to that canvas, just as she saw it. Effortlessly.
But it didn't. What started as a sweet, very abstract flower, soon became a canvas, covered in a wash of every color. A wet, brownish, grey, mish mosh. She saw a mess. I saw a night sky. I loved it! But there was Charlotte, in tears, not believing my praises, and storming off, into her room, yelling behind her as she went that she is "the worst painter ever".
Sometimes, the picture you paint in your head, and the expectations you hold so dearly, and with such might, don't always work out as you plan. In that moment, when I saw Charlotte's heart break, because it just wasn't working out as she had planned, I saw me. I saw how hard it can be to accept reality, as opposed to what you thought it was going to be. I saw how terribly disappointed one can become, in not attaining what you thought the outcome was going to be, instead of loving the what you actually got.
When Charlotte's painting dried in the sun, I brought the easel into the house, and propped her finished product up, and took out my art history books, and showed her works from Jackson Pollock, and Georgia O'Keeffe. She was amazed at what could be considered art. She stood back and looked at her finished masterpiece, and was pleased, and proud. As was I, looking at my masterpiece, Charlotte. Both of us, pleased at the outcome.
Not quite what we had painted in our mind.
Live free or die
The week was magical. It is imprinted into my mind. Everything about it. From how far the tide would go out during the day, allowing you to walk forever, and play in small tidal pools, to how close it came in at night. The stairs down the dune would be almost covered with frothy, churning bay water. The sunsets were magic. Dinners out on the deck, and playing blind mans bluff at night are pressed into my memory. I remember going to a drive-in in our gigantic wood paneled station wagon, and falling asleep during the Pink Panther, in the "bed" my parents had set up in the back of it.
I am writing this from a Burger King, that has free wifi, in New Hampshire. I am looking out the window, and the White Mountains are breathtaking. We are on vacation. We are broke. Constantly. But someone I am lucky to know offered us her beautiful home, here in this magical place, for us to come, and get away. When we left on Sunday, for our week here, we had $300.00. Actually...I think it was more like $280.00. Who goes on vacation with that kind of cash? It's crazy. I thought that maybe we were going to have to pass on this trip, but David looked at me and said, we would be fine. We would figure it out.
And we have. We brought along practically the entire contents of our home, and had the gas to get here, and purchased groceries on the cheap, for the week, and we are in heaven. On the property is a waterfall, and two swimming holes! Yesterday, we swam all afternoon at a 12,000 year old geological sight, called the Sculptured Rocks. We packed a lunch, and looked for flecks of gold in the small pebbles in the crystal clear, cool water. Today, we are off to Spectacle Lake for the day. And tonight, I am feeling a game of blind mans bluff coming on.
My Dad told me years later, when he could finally talk to me as an adult, how much that trip to Cape Cod had cost him. They didn't have the money. They put it all on credit cards. And it took them years to pay it off, and damaged their credit for a while to boot. But when I tell him that my greatest memory from childhood was that magical week swimming, and playing in the sand, and staying up late, and sleeping somewhere far from home....I see how happy he looks.
Going on vacation by the skin of our teeth has really given me so much anxiety this week. It has made my heart flutter more than a few times with palpitations. But as I brushed the knots out of Olivia's hair the other evening, after a day of them swimming in the waterfall, and catching water lizards, and tadpoles, Olivia whispered to me that she will remember this trip her whole life.
I believe she will.