Today's a strange and significant day for me. It's the first day of the next phase of my life, the first time in 14 years that I am a stay-at-home mom home alone. I've had moments, hours, like this before, but never more than snatched and sipped, never routine and predictable. Technically, this big day should have happened last September when our special-needs daughter started school. But my husband was on sabbatical last semester, writing a book, so it wasn't just me, my house, and the rest of my life. Most stay-at-home parents would have reached this point eight or nine years ago. But because we have an autistic daughter who has been home schooled (because there were no decent schools for her until this year), I'm coming to this party late. But that's me, blooming late, as usual.
I spent the morning looking at family photos, because i want to start on drawings for a children's book I've written. I started out looking for pictures of my daughters when they were toddlers to use as models for one of the characters. But, of course, I got completely side tracked. I found pictures of my husband's French grandmother and her brothers taken in the Tuilleries sometime before WWI. One of the brothers would go on to fight in WWI where he was seriously wounded. He lived and was transformed by the experience and went on to become a world-famous surrealist painter. My husband's grandmother (the painter's baby sister) grew up to make an unhappy marriage to an odd American man and move to the U.S.
Then I strayed into pictures of my family. My parents are both 100% Southern (I could join the Daughters of the Confederacy on both sides.), yet childhood pictures show me strapped to the back of a Taiwanese Amah, wandering down the ruined steps of Angkor Wat, running barefoot and wild on the dirt roads of Laos. Taiwan, which was a repressive dictatorship when I was born there, is now a great democratic success story. The sleepy rural Cambodia of my childhood was tortured, murdered, killed by Pol Pot in his holocaust. And while I was happily roaming the streets of Laos, the CIA was running covert operations there, buying cocaine from Hmong tribes to win their loyalty as anti-communist fighters. Which worked out so well for everyone; Laos has been a Communist country for decades, and the many of the Hmong live desperately poor lives on the run from Lao forces. All of which makes me conclude that, despite all our planning, our best (or worst, hello CIA!) guesses, there is simply no way to tell how things are going to turn out.
This is a comforting thought for me today. Having a child who is very "differently abled," and who I know will probably live with me for the rest of my life, can be overwhelming if I stop and think about it too much. What will become of her when I'm gone? Who will love, care for, and appreciate her the way my husband and I do? But these pictures I've been looking at tell me there's no point in that kind of thinking. Who would have guessed that the young French boy in his stylish Sunday best, would lie bleeding all night on a battle field, watching the stars, and be transformed? That his little sister would leave Paris and live a strange lonely life in Ohio? That the lovely, quiet backwater that was Cambodia, would consume itself in insanity and hatred? That this American child with an Asian childhood would end up in the grey American rustbelt with a hybrid family of her own? No one.
As I sat alone in my disconcertingly silent house looking at pictures, I also thought about this new, uncharted phase of my life. There's so much I want to do: creative projects of all kinds - novels I want to publish, books I want to write and illustrate, windows I see in my head that I want to see in real life, and, always, children to love and help and worry about. The outcomes of all of these things are completely uncertain. I wanted to talk to someone, tell someone about it. But the husband is busy at work, family and friends are scattered and busy. So it was such a comfort that I had this place, and all of you, to come to and pour out my confused feelings and inchoate thoughts. Thanks for being there and holding my (cyber) hand on this odd, quiet day, as I make my uncertain steps forward into the always uncertain future. (And having written this, maybe tomorrow I'll actually get some work done!)