My daughter, Hannah, asked me to send her a baby picture, ‘a real cute one,’ via text one morning this week. Once I was caffeinated and dressed, I grabbed the step stool, reached on to the top shelf of the guest room closet and pulled down a few photo albums.
The albums are a mess, and I keep meaning to organize them, put them in better books, scan them all into my computer, preserve them so that my children can continue to laugh at their mother’s silly ass perms or mom bob and sigh over how young we all once were.
I opened one of the cracked binding photo albums with three rings that don’t close any longer with plastic sleeves that have torn with time sending pictures flying onto the floor, and I was suddenly face to face with myself, and my first thought was, “how beautiful you were.” Dark hair, fair skin, eyes without wrinkles at their edges and yet I know that at that time I felt anything but beautiful. I felt uncertain about my identity as a mother and my husband had grown distant and my family of origin lived a forever five hours away by car. I certainly didn’t feel beautiful, sexy or intelligent.
I tentatively opened the album a tiny bit more and my old house was there, and then I began to cry. By the time I was pulling out pictures to send Hannah, I was a complete and utter mess. The nostalgia pulled me into a time warp. I might be on my office carpet on a hot August morning in Boulder, Colorado, but I could feel that itchy bail of hay through my jeans, remember the craziness of bees in fall and smell that heavenly humid New England air. I remembered the size of Hannah’s hand in mine, the smell of her warm sun-kissed scalp and oh how I longed for that day once again. Just one more moment to hold my children close before the time would come that I would need to let them go.
Despite the indescribable love I have always felt for my daughters, I was not a happy woman then. I had what was the common expectation and formula for happiness that so many of my gender and generation longed for; marriage, children, a car in the garage, food on the table and a home with a garden to tend. But like the women Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique, I suffered from the problem with no name. I was genuinely bewildered as to why caring for others didn’t make me happy. I hadn’t yet learned that my happiness was MY responsibility, and did not and would not ever come with a man or children alone.
I’ve tried to teach my daughters this and yet understand they will have to find this out on their own.
This is what I want them to know: The day I gave up on what others expected of me, what I had been raised to believe I was supposed to do or feel, when I gave up on the comfort I was supposed to have felt from a life in the ‘burbs, and finally fled a marriage that left me cold and empty, and abandoned those life rules someone else had dictated and that made no sense for me, I began to sprout wings. Those wings hurt as they grew and then burst out of my heart, and were born out of the devastation of finding out that there is no pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, the gold is INSIDE our own heart, and oh this hurt, but once those wings began to flutter, I could not turn back and I began to fly toward something only I knew and could see.
That beautiful woman sitting on top of a bail of hay on a ride with her daughter at Drumlin Farm in Massachusetts had a garden to tend and a lovely house, but she was not home. I closed my eyes, reached across the past, grabbed my before self’s hand and pulled her to me. Yes. I held my very own hand. I told her we still have miles to travel. Miles of glorious, mind-blowing, other-worldly, extra ordinary, out of bounds, impossible to control travel.
I told her we would not get lost again.