Just before Christmas, one of my sons and I took my mother to dinner and the opera, the MET being one of the only places in which she is truly contented.
MET, especially the bold and graceful design of the curvilinear hall, with its swooping hammered bronze rails and gilt ceilings and shimmering chandeliers. I always follow their slow ascent to the ceiling just as the curtain is about to go up, craning my neck in a most untoward way, not wanting to let them out of my sight, until finally the music draws me in.
Naturally the opera, Claude Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande, was tragic and tumultuous, lovers were separated, friends were lost, babies were born into a cold world only to be abandoned by their mothers; death claimed everyone.
My son loved it, and my mother was blissful. Anyone who accompanies her to the opera can be assured of pleasing her, which feeling has its own fairy-tale quality. It is always nice to let oneself fall under a spell. Dragons are slain. All is well.
Until it isn't. I spent the rest of my holiday in an unexpected way, setting up a baby nursery for friends whose own Christmas plans were waylaid. I learned a while ago that there are times when you don't ask how you can help; you just jump in, look around, see what needs doing, and do it.
The ways in which we help each other has been much on my mind, having recently had an argument with one son--only because the other was not around, not because he is innocent--over lending a hand, or rather, not doing so. Around here, we haven't even evolved to the stage of doing without being asked; that requires an advanced degree of karma, involving awareness (gee, Mom is doing the dishes and I'm sitting around), compassion (maybe she doesn't really want to spend so much time cleaning up), and availability (hey, I'm home, and I happen to have free time right now...) I'm still waiting for an ETA on vacuuming the floor. This month--or next? Oh well. I have resolved to stop beating myself up about whether or not I've spoiled him. I have loved him, unconditionally. Of course. He will have to decide when he wants to stop spoiling himself. Perhaps I digress...
But what has happened to simplicity--at an affordable price? In limited quantities, it's still where it was twenty years ago--with Gerber's and Carter's, thank goodness. Otherwise, all around me were clothes in screaming colors, covered with cartoon characters and sports logos and TV spots. Weird. Who exactly are we calling hyperactive? Perhaps the children are taking their cues from the stuff with which we surround them--that we create for them! I picked up nice looking pajamas with green and brown stripes, only to discover when I was back at the house putting them away, that they had a skull and bones on the back! Goth??!! Who puts skeletons on baby clothes?! Babies don't need to be hip--nor do they need to be parodies.
It turned out that pulling together a simple, spare, serene space, and finding the same sort of layette, was quite a challenge. But soon enough, shelves that had held the files and documents and books of the home office were cleared for towels and powders and diapers--and the lifetime ahead of childhood toys. I found a blue CFL for a nightlight, and flameless LED candles as well.
But perhaps our children, too, remain needy, in some small corner of their hearts. Perhaps that's why it is hard for them to learn to offer help. That would mean a reversal of the order of things. It's tough to admit that that is the way life unspools. As we walked my mother home, after the opera, we had to move very slowly; she leaned into my son's arm, and I was struck by how tiny she has grown, and how vulnerable and fragile. My son later remarked that my mother had a childlike look of happiness on her face; he was surprised by how simple it was, in the end, to please her.
I was so glad to be able to help set the stage for the new lives that will be entering my friends' home. I'm hopeful that a serene nursery will mean a little less Sturm und Drang--if design has any impact on us at all, and of course I think it does. But most of all, as I shuttled between cribs and changing tables, I felt pleased to be settling into my place in that great chain of life, just another link between the generations. And I felt honored to be needed. Someday, I hope, my sons will be changing their infants' diapers. They'll remember how nice it was to have a mom who did their laundry. They'll think how nice it would be to have some help. Knowing that, they'll offer to lend me a hand next time they visit. I can wait.
And in the meantime, I wish you all the happiest of new years, and thank you for linking up with me in this tiny but heart-filled chain of being.