I worked hard today. I didn’t get outside once. I didn’t even open my windows. I didn’t think of it. I was focused on work, on delivering, on producing, in a new role that’s challenging and fun and represents a whole new world for me. Also, I had (possibly foolishly) scheduled a noon tea date with my daughter’s violin teacher, a lovely woman we adore, thinking Friday would be more relaxed. I’d be working from home, with more control of my time.
The thing is, last week was my first “real” week — my first week as a full-time, permanent employee — after more than a decade as a contractor/freelancer. I’m elated and grateful — and much busier. Failing is not an option. I cannot lose track; I cannot get spacey; I cannot get tired. I must be on, give 100%, and for the first time in my life I want to. To give. To a corporate entity. This is because my team, my boss, my boss’ boss, won my loyalty with a beautiful job offer. I was humbled by it. And galvanized.
Anyway, at 10 a.m., I thought to myself, I need to get up from this desk right now and make magic happen. Make good food happen. Make “tea” happen. I need to tidy the house, set the table with a fresh tablecloth and placemats, pretty plates and cups, and silver. Most of all, I needed to think carefully about the meal because Rachel had had a bout with breast cancer in the not too distant past. I knew she’d be careful, exceedingly careful, about her diet. I needed to served clean, nutritious, wholesome food.
Luckily, that’s not hard for us to do since that’s the way we eat. But, since I had called it a “tea,” I was a little flummoxed. But only for a moment. The truth is — and here’s the irony of no choice once more — when you have no choice, you make do with what you have. You just go. You just do.
If I’d had time, I would have over-thought it: read numerous web articles about nutritious tea possibilities — gluten-free, whole grain scones that are actually tasty, for example. But, I didn’t have time.
At 10:30, with 90 minutes to go, I tore from my desk to the kitchen, threw on a striped black and white apron and got to work. I took from the fridge anything viable and began assembling. There were hard boiled eggs. I began peeling them for deviled eggs. That seemed tea-like. I had a head of cauliflower and a bunch of stout carrots with their tops still attached. I peeled and sliced those chunkily in short order and sliced the cauliflower and threw all that in a glass casserole pan with a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves.
I tossed all that with olive oil, several pinches of salt, and a few grindings of black pepper and stuck it in the oven at 425F. I found a head of cabbage, sliced that, and sauteed it in a pan with half an onion, olive oil, plenty of salt, and pepper. I found some nice raisin bread from the health food store in the bread basket and set a few slices of that by the toaster for quick toasting. I had a slightly tired chicken soup on hand as well — the soup I made last Sunday that everyone ignored while I was at work all week. So Sad. ! (to take a page from 45)
I was breathless, but the food was made, and the table dressed, at noon when my guest arrived, in the nick of time.
We had a lovely time. She is an exceedingly kind and gracious person. With that kind of person, time slows down. Life slows down. People like that command your attention. It’s because I respect her so. She has shown, over the many years I have known her, that she is a deeply caring person. “A human being,” as my new colleague B. likes to say. I’ve learned already that this is B.’s highest compliment. To receive the moniker, “A Real Human Being” means that he holds you in the highest esteem. It means you’re caring. Humane. Humanistic. Authentic.
We had a good time. Even though I was tense when she arrived and stressed that work was waiting, I found I was able to relax totally. Maybe in part because she took a surprising and rather amazing risk — at least it would be for many. She raised her shirt and showed me her re-constructed breast, with a re-constructed (i.e., fake) “nipple.” I was amazed, and deeply honored by her trust in me. I was also deeply touched and sweetly amused by her pretty breast — the other one that was untouched, unmolested, with a nipple as pale and tender as a Georgia peach. As incredibly cliche as that sounds, it’s true. It was the most delicate, gorgeous salmon color. Sweet, tender, and vulnerable.
Once she did that, I could no longer think about “work.” Life was distilled in that moment to what was most important. Therefore, we took our time. She was gracious (I said she was, didn’t I?), however. She remembered I had said I was working, and she took her leave after about 90 minutes — staying just long enough to honor the effort I’d put into the lunch, but not so long that I would start to stress about work. I appreciated that.
This is all a very long way of saying I never left the house today, not once. Then, suddenly, it was getting dark. I was aware of the beautiful time gathering. I saw the rosy sky, I felt the air soften. I saw the colors deepen, the trees darken. I was being called, but I worked more. The prettiest time passed, the gloaming came. The sky turned from rosy to silver. Light and color ebbed from the sky and trees.
That’s when I tore out the door with Daisy. We walked fast. Daisy was ecstatic, bounding in that electric way she has, excitement spasming out of her in bursts of energy that sent her body vertical. I stopped at a neighbor’s, picked a giant, impossibly fragrant Buddha’s Hand lemon, and set off again at a healthy pace. We entered the river road which was darkening fast, the Bay Laurel trees forming a canopy over our heads.
On the other side of the hill, we turned left. Three teens pedaled lazily by on bikes, laughing. Couples were out walking. Greetings hung in the air up and down the block. An intriguing spray of… pollen? suddenly doused me. I felt it. I got it’s heady scent. I thought, how sexy.
Then, I thought, wait what was that? Let’s find out. We doubled back. I saw a young oak tree, tender agate green leaves pushing to unfurl. An acacia (?) — heavy with sprays of yellow flowers — was tucked demurely behind. The pollen must have come from that tree, and from a distance! It just reached out and sprayed me and Daisy. Sexy. Spring.
We continued in a zig-zag fashion to the main boulevard a couple of miles down the hill. With each step I took, I grew happier. With each step, my breath became more even, more deep. My back became more loose, more free. My wonky ankle warmed up, the stiffness eased. I felt like I used to feel often, that I could walk forever. That with each mile that passed, I would only get stronger, my pace would only get more even, my body and breath more efficient. I felt high, on top of the world.
We passed a house with the front door open. A house with the front curtains open. I could see a family sitting down to dinner, little kids running to the table. I saw a pretty painted wall with art hung tastefully on it, all over it, bursting with color. I saw lilies, paper thin blossoms on craggy dark wood, daffodils in front yards, at the bases of trees, in the sidewalk strips.
I passed couples pushing strollers. I wondered if they thought I was alone, if they were smug in their family-feeling, if they felt pity for me or wondered if I was alone. I was grateful to have a family, to still have kids at home, to have my dad. I thought of people I know who are never home because why? No one is there. They live their lives outside, on the street, in the cafes, in the dance halls, in the bars, in gyms, classes, what have you.
When I got home, I flung open windows that hadn’t been opened in months, windows still swollen from weeks of torrential rains. I pushed hard, they groaned, and opened, and evening air flowed in. I felt safe. I pulled good leftovers from the fridge — the leftovers from the tea-lunch earlier. I made myself a lemon drop with vokda, lemon juice, Cointreau, lots of ice in the shaker, and zest from the Buddha’s Hand lemon. I sent a friend a picture of my cocktail.
I turned on Pandora and heard Gladys Knight and the Pips sing The Way We Were. I listened to Ray Charles’ version of A Song For You — these songs make me happy. I basked in being home, in my home, with a rare snatch of quiet time while both kids were out. I reflected on the fact that in years past, I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t be alone and happy in my home. A surge of restless energy — loneliness, sorrow, anxiety — would fill me and force me out.
Now, I fend off engagements that would take me away from my home and children. I want to be home when my kids walk in the door. I want to hear their key turning in the door. I dread the day when it no longer will. I joke that I will join the Peace Corps when that day arrives, and maybe I will. Until then, I will bask in my current position in life as a mom still at the helm of her family’s ship.
Perhaps “TheraP” said it best in the New York Times last week: “Sweat the small stuff. Put energy into your loved ones, into the values which matter to you. Spend time in nature. Drink in the seasons. Enjoy the weather, every type of it. Yes, live frugally. Marry for love, not for money. Do work that carries meaning. Save for the future. Realize one day you’ll be old.”