Thursday, January 03, 2008

what ought to be a simple conversation with a classmate

The day begins with a cold rain, day fourteen of the children’s school break with five more days to go. They’ve been more or less “in” most of the last four days, with the exception of New Years Eve. The Charlie Brown Christmas tree is still full of lights and ornaments, unlike the Charlie Brown cabinets which are more empty than not, and certainly empty of anything “easy” or festive. I wake late and sneak into the living room after Scott leaves for work, to squeeze a little quiet writing time before the children wake. The absence of solitude seems so much like my life as a full-fulltime mom, as close to me as the summer months that passed not so long ago.

But a long way away, too. My status as a full-time graduate student is a godsend, a motivator to do something with this gift that is my life, for twenty-five hours a week. I’ve read literally thousands of pages, and though a breather is good, I’m eager to dig in once again. I haven’t written almost anything since the last due date, except my entries from my writing group and a few scattered journal entries. First came Christmas preparation, followed by a desperate stomach flu, and I’m just now catching up with myself.

I lose myself, only a little I think, but then the children wake very late and I remember my classmate is visiting from out-of-town and I need a shower. I don’t know if the visit will be short or long, if my friend will want to walk or sight see. I corral children to tidy, to make cards and welcome signs, and I search the cabinet for anything worth serving… each soup that comes to mind is one ingredient short. Not today. The dryer vent is loose again and the living room and kitchen fill with humid steam—I open windows to remedy it, because we are out of towels, too, and I am out of clothes. I make coffee and think about biscuits and honey. I find one jar of homemade raspberry jam, and they are walking up the street to our house. My children begin to jump and smile and swear to me that they are far too shy to say hello.

Matthew and Jolene duck in the door and come in. My children are in jumping bean mode, in show-and-tell-all-the-Christmas-presents mode. Brendan dressed in Red Sox garb and he brings out his card collection. Madeleine tells me she would make biscuits but the cookbook has fallen into loose pages, and she cannot find the index. I offer coffee but I need to find page 66, which is somewhere near page 266 and page 366. When the recipe is located, Madeleine sets about climbing the kitchen counters to find ingredients and bowls, and I try to pull together coffee beans, a grinder, mugs and hot water, but I am thwarted by a pair of ten-year-old legs and bare feet on my countertop. Brendan shows each treasure at the top of his lungs (too shy to say hello, yes), the tea whistle blows, and I pull out cookie sheets, spoons. Madeleine stacks the sugar and the flour canisters and a large glass bowl on top of them—I rescue it before it crashes. Brendan puts on Salsa music. Flour goes everywhere and my guests watch me, bemused, as I am interrupted at every possible juncture—I pour two mugs of coffee, add milk and sugar, and then the coffee pot is empty, so I go through all the steps again, now that the ten-year-old legs are otherwise employed in a kitchen covered with flour. Do not ask how long it takes to make a simple batch of biscuits, or how many accoutrements can be found to adorn biscuits.

But we talk books and reading and share notes and impressions from long ago in Santa Fe, and tell how work goes, what ideas are out there to pursue, whose work impresses us, how we are humbled to be included in this masters program. Somehow, with the windows fogging and the coffee mugs emptying and the steam emitting from freshly opened biscuits, Matthew and I don’t stop the conversation at all, only pausing here and there to admire the Hot Wheels race track and the Rat-a-Tat Cat game. His date Jolene takes my two in hand to play games on the floor and try a science experiment and raid the refrigerator, and I slice apples while talking, and set out trail mix and dried cranberries and I hope this very thin hospitality will “do.”

Did we talk for four hours? I think we did.

Goodbyes set children to pestering me and we make a quick shift to a quiet hour. I’ll see Matthew next in March, and Jolene not for a long time, likely. When we return from the quiet hour, each from our own room, I thank them for being so welcoming and mostly helpful, for baking and playing games well.

I promise a special treat, which is a movie, Little Women, and a big bowl of cinnamon popcorn. I serve mugs of hot soup, from a can today, and when the movie is over, the day is over, too. We quickly grab a dessert and children fall into bed, much later than school nights but early enough that I can write a little, read a little. Scott will be out finishing his student reports for as long as he can stand, and I am digging into Nancy Mairs’ Remembering the Bone House, from the Saxon word for “body,” or a bone house. Tomorrow I will wake to the list of things I put off today, and I’ll need to take the pantry and the groceries seriously. But not yet. In some ways I don’t love vacation—interruptions keep me from some sorts of work. In some ways though, my children charming my friend’s girlfriend, so I can keep asking more questions, keep getting to know him—I’d choose a different sort of visit with some quiet to learn another’s rhythm, but this day is the day I have. These are the merry children I have, and this the life I have.

And it’s a good one.

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