Friday, June 15, 2012

The Quiet Life

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One of my favorite parts of Frances Mayes' book Under the Tuscan Sun is when she describes the time she spent on her own in her newly renovated Italian villa. It's been years since I've read that book, but I clearly remember Mayes' description of how she experienced solitude after years, years, of hustle and bustle. It's like trading a thickly padded snowsuit for a pair of tee shirt and shorts. You feel different. You experience your body, your sleep patterns ...your entire life from a different perspective. And yet there is a feeling of exposure, of vulnerability that creeps up on you every so often. As if you must ask yourself, how can I be this person and still be that other person too? These disparate parts of my life have nothing to do with each other.

This week Jeremy's mom swooped down and took my girls to Chicago for a couple of weeks so that I can nudge this pregnancy a little closer to safe ground. Under normal circumstances this is the stuff of a young mother's dreams. A break. A quiet, clean house. Time to think and read and write and watch movies without bossy little midgets intruding at every moment. And yet this isn't a normal circumstance, and the romance of the opportunity, no doubt the romance that Mayes felt alone in Italy, is distinctly absent. It feels as if I had to send them away under duress, a last minute triage. The night before they flew out I said to Madeleine, "We're not getting rid of you, we just want you to have a fun summer vacation since I have to stay in bed so much." Madeleine gave me a wry smile. "Whatever mom. You're totally getting rid of us, but it's okay. I understand."

Frances Mayes went to Italy to change her life. To seek out some of the qualities, the food, landscape and sun shine that had been absent for so many years. So, her experience being alone was obviously more celebratory than my situation. But I can still relate to the strangeness of feeling the restraints of your usual routine fall away. This morning I woke at six thirty and then stretched out for a nap at ten thirty. In the middle of the afternoon, long past lunchtime, I went to the kitchen and made a simple potato salad with fresh herbs and olive oil. Last night I ate a sandwich for dinner at eight thirty, took a bath, and then worked on my manuscript until after ten. It is a quiet life. A life without bickering, spilled food, or picky eaters. It is a life I hardly recognize.

Nearly every person I speak to offers some sort of encouragement, urging me "to savor the moment and take advantage of this opportunity because soon the girls will be home, and after that there will be a new baby thrown into the mix." But I can't write about the quiet life without saying something of the echoes it leaves behind. Yesterday I sat in my girls' room and admired their artwork, their books, and the way three year old Elisabeth tucked her dollies into their cradle before she left for the airport. What I'm feeling is a kind of reassurance that I love my old life. I don't want an Italian villa. There is something to be said for waking up from a long nap to the calm of chirping birds, having hours to myself to work on writing projects, and sitting alone in a kitchen that is sparkling clean. But mostly I'm just glad these luxuries are temporary.

1 comment:

  1. I think about this all the time. I think it's something to do with the idea of the grass is always greener on the other side--until you're on the other side that is and then your old side looks pretty marvelous. I too dream of all that I could do if I didn't have to care for my kids, but when I actually have an opportunity present itself I feel almost frozen with inaction and there seems to be too much quiet surrounding me--suffocating me. I even try and remember what it must've been like with only one child to care for--it doesn't seem at all familiar.
    I do think that the reflection of it is where the appreciation is gained.


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