November 20, 2010
See? Here is your home! Everything is still okay here!
— Anna Thiele, b. 1998
American apprentice fiction writer and cross-country runner
speaking to two stuffed animals in August, 2001
My husband has four grandchildren, the offspring of his oldest daughter. They live in Texas (the last three were born there), so we don’t see them often. In 2001, when they were 12, 6, 3, and 2, their mother brought them east for an extended visit. No matter how well you prepare them for such a trip, no matter how enthusiastically you sell it as an adventure, when you pop four young siblings into a van for three days and take them to an unfamiliar place where the reality is sure to differ from their expectations to at least some degree, you will force them to draw on their coping skills. These strategies might include squabbling with each other, wearing their iPod earbuds for the duration, or figuring out how to make the best of what’s been dealt them.
Anna was three that summer. We’d already met her, and I knew even when she was two that she was a child possessed of a keen imagination, a child who could take two random objects off a table and make up a story about them. When she arrived, she wandered about the house and finally became attracted to two stuffed animals that resided in my study — a black Lab dog I named Melanie, My Black Bitch, the embodiment of my depression (I told Anna just the Melanie part) and a fuzzy cat that looked like our departed Punkin Pie.
She carted those animals around with her constantly. Periodically she would come into my study, knocking politely first if I were in there, hold out the animals, and say brightly, “See? Here is your home! Everything is still okay here!” She would come across the room for a hug, present the animals for their hugs, and then go on about her business. On the day she left, she brought them back, put them where she had found them, and waved goodbye.
Did you have to know much psychology to know what was going on in this child’s head?
I arrived home last night after it was dark. I brought in enough stuff to tide me over until morning, took a very long, very hot shower. (The low-flow shower head and environmentally conservative water temperature in Vermont were adequate for maintaining personal hygiene but did make me feel that I was at camp for a month.) This morning I was back at my usual place for C&C, missing just a little the brighter, closer-in light I had at the table in the Mason house.
I have decisions to make about how best to accomplish The Holidays while also maintaining the momentum on my fiction work. In my traditional habits, this is the day I would redd out the refrigerator and the cupboards thoroughly, and so that is what I did. I did a mental survey of all my Christmas stuff — the creches, the ornaments, the books, et cetera, yada yada, and et cetera. I tackled the project the way I had each story slated for revision: I made an inventory. What exactly do I have? I got through one tray of folders containing my lists, my recipes, and my notes from years past, and a box that holds a Thanksgiving memories album project that I started in a rush of emotion in 2006.
When I was finished I looked around. The kitchen that had looked so neatly squared away when I arrived twenty-four hours ago now had my talismans back on the table, my work basket on the floor by my chair, and two project boxes with Post-it notes sticking out and sticking on.
Yep — everything is still okay here!
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