The last few Thanksgivings have provided fodder for good stories: extended family loving on me and my kids, uncles loving on each other, the good souls who married into this family smiling and shaking their heads and banding together for mutual support and assistance in translating.

This one might be different.

Our children will not be with us, which is not new and still not easy. We will wake up thinking of them as we do every day, and they will knock particularly insistently on the insides of our hearts as we perform the rituals we instituted with them.

One cousin is divorcing her husband, or trying to. As the newest veteran of divorce, I have been prevailed upon to talk with her. Is my assignment to talk her into staying, or talk her through going?

Another cousin moved out of his parents’ house into a highly questionable situation, moved back in, was in a terrible car crash and lost a kidney, in that order. He has since allowed/invited two of his friends from the aforementioned situation to invade/share his living space. (The details are a little sketchy.) His father is tolerating the arrangement because these young men have nowhere else to go, but indicates the household estrogen-to-testosterone ratio has gone seriously out of whack.

A third cousin’s sister-in-law is sitting in jail without bond on charges of meth production and distribution. Meth has invaded the last remaining safe haven that never really was.

And there’s the rub: we are faced with the ugly truth that poverty, substance abuse, violence, and infidelity are as much a part of the human condition as abundance, health, kindness, and faithfulness. They’re all rolled up together and have been since the beginning of time. Different strands become more apparent as the ball is turned in the sunlight and in the moonshine, but they’re all there. So what do we do?

Hold onto those threads. Pull ourselves along them, hand over hand, like we tried to on the ropes in gym class. Work with spotters and carry others when we can. Let go of rough strands that hurt our hands and grab onto the satiny soft ones – or just smooth out the roughness the best we can until we get to an easier patch.

Hold on until next year.


Autumn Hope

I adore autumn. Oh, I thought I loved summer for a long while, and the beach is marvelous and vacations are fantastic, and there’s something intoxicating about just wallowing in the heat. It’s an annual infatuation, but unrequited – summer does not love me back. My muscles turn to jelly, as it’s too hot to walk, and the sun burns my skin. Fall comes as such a delicious relief: I stride through the fallen leaves under a bright blue sky on blissfully brisk days, feeling the cool air fill my lungs and the blood pumping through my body. It reminds me of the first days of school and brings images of new beginnings.

This fall has disappointed me.

Carmelita has decided she’s an outdoor feline, which is kind of like not having a cat.

I totaled my car.

My husband is not well, and we’ve been frustrated by the medical-industrial complex. There is more to that story to tell, and too much to tell.

My daughter and I have been estranged since May. How does that even happen? Mothers and daughters do not become estranged. Okay, they do, but we don’t. We. Don’t. But we did. It’s a constant squeeze of my heart, a yawning of the pores on my arms, a fist in my gut, a missing her, a worry about whether she’s okay and ever will be okay. I have no idea how to fix it. I tell myself that maybe she’s fine. People who know her tell me she’s doing well, a sign I did my job right. This doesn’t seem quite correct, and I mentally list all of the things I did wrong. I think about The Glass Castle and wonder whether Jeannette Walls ever feels whole. I grieve for the loss of the woman who grew up from the child we raised.

So I am doing little things: taking on new roles at our church; buying “back-to-school” clothes; trying new recipes with fall foods; thinking about the holidays; not thinking about the holidays.

And one big thing: acting classes. I dreamed of performing when I was a child, had it squished out of me by the time I hit 6th grade, and have felt the hole ever since. I’m re-learning things about myself I’d forgotten. Maybe I’ll take an improvisation class next. Maybe I’ll audition for a play.

Maybe I will re-learn how to mother my daughter.