It’s intriguing, the moment that it comes to mind. You’d think it would come in moments of quiet, in moments of solitude, when everything is still and that sleeping voice–that one that’s never forgotten, never gone, only dormant for a while–can raise its whisper in your thoughts. But it’s not the moments of silence; it’s not when I’m in bed at night, or gazing over my morning coffee before the boys wake up for the day. It comes in the moments of laughter, of daily life. It comes when we are all together in our day-to-day routine. The dinner table with the empty chair. The vacant spot in the van on the way home from the grocery store. The bedtime routine that is one goodnight kiss and I-love-you too short. Someone is missing. I don’t think of him–or her–as a baby anymore. I think of him as a child, as someone who had turned six this past summer, like he would have. In my mind’s eye, I see someone like Ephraim, but taller. I can’t help it. I don’t have much to go on. I wonder who he was. I wonder what it would be like to be a family of six. I wonder how different things would be. I wonder how different I would be. Miscarriage has been the most heartbreaking, confusing, jarring, baffling thing I have ever experienced. But it was all the worse because it was the loneliest thing I have ever experienced. It is not an easy loss to fathom. Even I couldn’t fathom what exactly I had lost until I had Ephraim, Clive, Anselm in my arms. It is an easy loss for others to forget. I never forget it. Tomorrow is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. If you know a woman, a family, who has experienced this kind of loss, won’t you let her know that you haven’t forgotten?
The day before your middle son’s birthday, browse the cake recipes you have pinned, skip all the ones with chocolate in them, and you’ll be left with one white cake recipe (that you’ve made before and was quite good.) Make sure that you have all the necessary ingredients (you don’t, and your car is blocked in by mounds of gravel and a mini-bulldozer thing; you won’t be able to get out without driving across the neighbor’s yard.) End up searching again for another recipe. Find a yellow one that is fairly straightforward and decide to go with that.
On the morning of your son’s birthday, set out the butter for the frosting and cake itself. Realize you actually don’t have enough for both. Briefly consider halving the recipe and decide that you don’t want to do math. Ask your husband if he can run out for butter and eggs later when he has a minute. He will say maybe.
Meanwhile the Birthday Boy will manage to get his first wasp sting on his thumb. It will start to swell a little. Put ice on it and call pediatrician. Leave message (with Birthday Boy screaming in the background). Text your good friend who knows way more about all health things than you do. She will give sound advice, including giving Benadryl. You don’t have any. Birthday Boy will now stop crying and just play. Your husband will drive the van across the neighbor’s yard while they’re not a home so you can go get Benadryl. Bonus: now you can get butter and eggs for the cake, too.
Walk through the store with your butter and eggs and Benadryl and pass the birthday cakes. Briefly stop and wonder if you should just get one here. Feel intensely guilty that Biggest Brother had homemade cakes on his birthdays, but Birthday Boy has only had storebought thus far. Buy butter, eggs, and Benadryl and leave.
Feed everyone and put them down for naps. Make cake batter. Dye it green for no reason except your son’s name reminds you of that color (probably because it rhymes with “chive”. Forget one step, but don’t realize it until the end, when it’s too late. Hope that the cake comes out anyway. One layer does, but the other doesn’t.
Think for a second.
Remember that moment in the store with all the pretty cakes, already made and ready to eat.
Try to stop thinking about it.
Use the destroyed layer and the killer buttercream frosting you’ve already made to make little balls a-la-cake pops, except you have no cake-pop-stick-things, so just roll balls and stick them on a plate. Make a sugar glaze and drizzle on top. Then dye some sugar pink and sprinkle it on top because Biggest Brother is obsessed with Winnie The Pooh’s “little cake things with pink sugar icing” and asks for them all the time.
Decide while you’re making them that you’re going to call them “Birthday Flop Balls” and make them every year just because.
Test one assembled and pink-sugared Birthday Flop Ball (BFB) and decide it’s good enough, but you wouldn’t serve it to company.
After dinner, give BFBs to children. Biggest Brother will devour his and ask for more. Birthday Boy will take one nibble and spit his out. Decide that he will be OK with storebought cakes from now on.
There is a little roadside market near my parents’ house, just down the road from the now-defunct Little Store (which is across from The Ugly House, which isn’t even a house at all.) It sits on a straight stretch of 31-W that you long for when you’re stuck behind someone actually following the 55 mph speed limit.
I’m always getting passed on that straight stretch of road. Worse than a tractor.
I’ve never stopped at this store–I don’t think it was around when I lived here. But we swung in today on our way home from Chaney’s. I wanted to photograph this little slice of country life.
It’s a pretty glamorous way to buy local produce. When I was a kid, you stopped on the side of the road to buy sweet corn off the back of someone’s pickup truck. This store had a fountain inside.
I just now noticed that there was sorghum for sale. Sorry, Dad, for not picking any up.
I was surprised that there was no one there, until I saw the paper on the counter. Country life, indeed.
We moved out to the farm when I was two; I have been in awe of that house for as long as I can remember. It was well-worn, then, but not run-down. It had a large front porch with a flat roof that you could go out and stand on.
We called it “The-House-Across-The-Street,” a sensible name, as we were in the habit of giving most things. The market at the crossroads was called “The Little Store”; the white structure catty-corner to it was called “The Ugly House”; the room in our house with the green carpet was “The Green Room,” and the one with gold carpet, “The Yellow Room.”
As I got older, I spent a lot of time imagining what it was like inside. Huge stone fireplaces, a sweeping, grand staircase. “Beautiful” decor as only an eight, nine, ten-year-old girl can dream up. It was almost always devoid of inhabitants, though people did live there from time to time. It had been built, I believe, by the grandparents of the man who owned the property and the fields surrounding it.
Our yard was fenced to keep the dogs and sheep away from the road, and we were not to cross over to that house. At least I assumed we weren’t, as I never did. It wasn’t our property and it wasn’t our house, and I never so much as peeked through the windows to see if what I imagined about the inside was true. Not until I was twelve, and the cat we’d had since before I was born went missing. I was asked (or it was suggested, and I obliged) to go over to the house and see if she had somehow managed to get trapped inside. So it was at twelve that I was able to do what I had been longing to do–go through the gate, cross the street, and look into that great House-Across-The-Street.
Seventeen years later I still recall that moment as one of the greatest disappointments of my life. What I saw was devastating to my dream-filled, girlish head.
There was a staircase, but not sweeping. Fireplaces, but not grand. Wallpaper peeled off the walls in great hanging sheets. Holes in the walls left the planking underneath exposed. It was filthy and falling apart. I didn’t look very long before going back across the road to our house.
I was twenty-one and a newlywed before I ever actually went inside. During a visit to my childhood home, I followed my adventurous husband across the street and into the house, almost bailing at the door when he said, ponderously, “This is just like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Inside we found nothing but a stop sign, some trash, and one solitary armchair in an upstairs bedroom, seated in front of a window. The stairs looked ready to collapse at any moment, and I’m still wondering at why we ever climbed them and how someone didn’t get hurt.
Over the years it has continued to deteriorate. The porch was torn down, and in the process, the foundation was compromised. The paint on the front doors faded even further. The chimneys began to crumble, and a family of vultures has moved into one of them. Despite its eerie aura and silent misery, I’ve never found the place to be ominous. At least, not that I remember. But I can’t help but feel an intense sorrow when I see it–even though it’s one of my favorite places to photograph. I stick the lense of my camera through a broken window to capture the interior, and I feel sick to my stomach.
When I’m done taking pictures, Jeremy asks if I want to go look inside.
“No,” I say. “It’s just too sad.”
If you frequent 18th-century forts, fireside chats, or trade fairs, chances are you’ve run across a dirty, raggedy, snaggle-toothed Irishwoman named Maggie Delaney who cheerfully demonstrates colonial laundry methods or educates the public on the horrors of indentured servitude.
If you haven’t met her, then you and I are in good company. I’ve actually never met her, either.
Now this is sort of complicated. Maggie Delaney is my mother. But no—she isn’t my mother. My mother is Carol Jarboe—who sometimes comes to my home wearing Maggie’s clothes, kisses me and my husband and my babies quickly before running upstairs to wash all that dirt off, then come back downstairs the lady I have known my whole life as Mommy.
But it occurred to me recently that maybe—just as I know of Maggie, but haven’t met her—maybe this woman I call “mom” is just as unknown to me. Not because I haven’t met her (obviously) but perhaps because my own naivete and self-centeredness has simply caused me to see her through a darkened lens. Like the child in that touching Mothers Day video, I have always seen her through the frame of my own life.
Let me explain.
Last week I was standing in the kitchen, cooking lunch for the family and reading this article on the growth of the homeschooling movement. According to research, the number of homeschoolers in the US has increased by 75% since 1999. (Aha! I think to myself.) Currently, 4% of the population teaches their children at home.
Woah, woah, woah. My kitchen and everything in it came to a screeching halt. 4%? That’s it?
Upon reflecting, it does of course make sense that the number would be small, but since I was raised in the homeschooling community and am still mostly surrounded by it, I never really considered how rare it actually is. And if the number of homeschoolers reaching 4% of the population is considered an “uprising”, then what must it have been twenty-something-odd years ago when my own mother took it upon herself to pull us out of our private school and teach us at home?
Suddenly I was doing a double-take at my memory of Mom teaching us the three R’s in our living-room-turned-schoolroom and it’s like I had suddenly realized she’s wearing brass knuckles and a leather jacket. Because taking on homeschooling when hardly anyone you know does it, when your family isn’t supportive, when there’s no blogs and no Pinterest and hardly even curriculum fairs because there’s only, like, three different ones to choose from anyway is NOT FOR WIMPY PEOPLE.
I would use a word right now, but because my Mama raised me better I’ll just say “bad-backside” instead. It’s pretty BAD-BACKSIDE.
Once my perspective shifted, I couldn’t stop it. When you grow up in a particular environment, you can’t help but take it for granted because it’s all you’ve known. But I could see now that things I considered normal or even commonplace were hardly that. Oh, I’ve known for a long time that Mom was different. Don’t get me wrong. But now I get it—I really get it. I get what she did.
When my sister and I were babies, she memorized a poem a week to recite to us. (Even today, when I read “The Willow Cats” to Elder Muse, it’s her voice I hear.) She went back to school to finish her degree so she could quit her job to stay home and teach us. She also ran the farm during the day while Dad was working full-time. She taught us the classics and exposed us to Music, real Music, the kind you can sink your teeth into and set your clock by, not “Devil Music” (that one is for you, you know who you are.) She taught us to swing dance in the living room with the green carpet and showed me how to make fried chicken. She drove me to ballet when I wanted to become a Prima Ballerina; later she drove me all over God’s green Earth to find a college with the major I wanted. Also, she once broke up a fight outside a mall when no one else would intervene. I’m telling you.
All this time my mom was a ROCKSTAR for crying out loud, and I didn’t even realize it because it was my “normal.”
Someone asked me recently what I had gleaned from my homeschooling experience and I didn’t answer because the answer was “EVERYTHING.” And that sounds like a cop-out answer, but it’s true. For me, there is no line between what schooling was and what it wasn’t our home life was our school life was our work life and Mom made it her priority and without it I wouldn’t be the person I am.
And right there in my kitchen, I had to laugh, because all of a sudden I remembered Maggie and I realized I knew her all along, that cheery, wild woman who overcame devastating hardships for the education and betterment of those around her. She’s my mother. And I love her.