When the fairy tale comes to the end, when the proverbial last line, “…and they all lived happily ever after” has come and gone, the book closes. And a life begins.
I want to see our story evolve to the place Grace Paley‘s muse took her when she wrote this beautiful poem:
Here I am in the garden laughing
an old woman with heavy breasts
and a nicely mapped face
how did this happen
well that’s who I wanted to be
at last a woman
in the old style sitting
stout thighs apart under
a big skirt grandchild sliding
on off my lap a pleasant
that’s my old man across the yard
he’s talking to the meter reader
he’s telling him the world’s sad story
how electricity is oil or uranium
and so forth I tell my grandson
run over to your grandpa ask him
to sit beside me for a minute I
am suddenly exhausted by my desire
to kiss his sweet explaining lips.
I’m already exhausted, too often, by my desire for today to be ten years from now, a dream of a gentle, settled time.
But happily ever after is now, and now is long days apart, rare stolen afternoons, Saturdays, and too short Sunday evenings. Now is quick mornings and mostly homemaking hours – deep dark coffee, butter, eggs, white wheat flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, greens and rice, broom and dustpan, sponge, soap, warm dryer-fresh laundry, beer and garlic, sweet cool sheets at end of day.
“How did you do it,” I asked my mother yesterday. “How did you manage the hours spent missing him?”
She answered, “That’s the big question, isn’t it?” She paused just for an instant, then said, “You concentrate on the love with everything you do in the home and for the home. The home is where your relationship lives, and the relationship is the center of your life,” she said.
It is, indeed. Not a comfortable realization for someone who looks at herself as something of a post-post feminist radical artist woman.
I’m working at navigating this new identity – struggling to pull into focus the way my 55 years of experience will serve this happily ever after fairy tale future. The biggest part of the struggle is that the me of 40 years, 30, 20, 10 years, of only six months ago, laughs at the idea of herself as a woman who stays home while a man toils out in the world providing to her great love and sanctuary.
My post-post feminist heart loves men – my father and brothers, my many male friends, my two sons and two grandsons (and another on the way), the fathers of my children and the man I love today. My strong woman’s spirit has evolved with an impulse to defend good men, to protect them from a world that makes them more dispensable than we who carry water and bear children. My fierce, loving heart drives me to rail against a culture that sends men to their graves younger than we women.
This brings me to now, again.
My skin, my bones, my heretic heart serves my homemaker identity well. Loving him, providing warmth and softness in his home, making of his groceries deliciousness that feeds us both, making the bed, breakfast, lunch, dinner, washing, folding, sweeping, baking – I provide these.
I provide, too. Happily.
Ever after is me writing this, now. Me staying engaged and never waiting, but doing. DOING. Living happily ever after requires diligence. Staying in love every minute. What a way to go.
UPDATE: I have gone back to work – as a Teaching Artist for Childsplay and as a playwright. I’m in-progress with a new work, Medicine Bundle. Now, I look back at this post and long for the luxury of those days when taking care of this house and this man were my sole vocations. Work is good, but home is where my heart really, truly is. Finally. – JSB, April 29, 2017