My father tore the carpet out of our house a few weeks before my sister’s wedding. The carpet started out the color of sand on a southern beach. After years of being trampled on by firewood toting teenagers, it had grown dingy and rough. Once he got a thought in his head, it was like a worm boring in deep and taking up residence. He bought planks of tongue and groove hardwood and piled them high in the living room. He was invisible save for the tapping of his rubber mallet against the slats. He moved with the deliberation of a military exercise from the dining room to the living room. With a hand-held electric sander, he methodically planed each surface on his knees. In paint-splattered Levi’s, which he was perpetually pulling up, he knelt on the floor and brushed each piece with a thick coat of varnish. It was exasperating to watch. With each painstaking stroke, he seemed more and more oblivious to the tornado of wedding preparations going on around him. He was blind and deaf to the herd of women stomping their feet and tapping their watches. This was not the first time he engaged in a Herculean task as the timer counted down to a graduation or wedding. I didn’t understand him at the time. I thought him inconsiderate at best, selfish at worst. But I was wrong, so wrong.
For the last year, I have been planning a party that I have known, for 19 years, was going to happen in the second week of June. I thought I had learned a lesson from my father: Don’t drive your family insane by doing an enormous job right before a big event. I planned ahead. A year ago, we tore out our rustic Ode-to-Alaska firepit, and built a circular patio large enough for a crowd and safe enough for old ankles. We built a 110-foot raised garden to fill with lovely flowers. We replaced the lawns, which our energetic boxers had decimated, and built a dog run to contain their enthusiasm. We weeded, planted, and barked. It is beautiful, exactly as I imagined it would be.
I was wrong, though. I did not learn that lesson from my dad. The truth is that I dragged my heels on the smaller details. Now that we are a few short weeks away, I am in a flurry, ordering photographs, creating announcements, planning a menu, and locating plates, napkins and decorations in green and black. I have a long list of things to do and an even longer list of things to worry about. Generally, I am driving everyone around me insane.
I think I have procrastinated, something I am loathed to do, because having a million things to do leaves no time to think about what is really happening. Our only child is graduating from high school. The glassware in the hutch needs to be washed. She will be going off to college soon. I must dust the slats of the blinds. When I slow down for even a moment, my chest is heavy and my breath catches in my throat. The entryway has spiderwebs. Even though this is the right thing and she is ready, I am grieving the loss. Did we pressure wash the patio? Soon I will not see her every day. I will not have those right-before-bedtime mother-daughter talks about the little and the big things in life. I need to borrow a cooler for the pop. I won’t chuckle at her admonishment of my loud music and excessive Tweeting. We will need lots of ice. She won’t be exploding through the door ready to tell us the amazing thing she did that day. The windows need washing. We won’t hear about the drama of everyday life. I need to order the food soon. I won’t be close enough to hug her when she needs comfort – or when I do. I need to move tables out for the food. Mother – daughter dinner dates will be bi-annual events. The flowerpots in the front need planting. Adventure Days will be rare. I need to get a journal so guests can write their advice to her. I will miss her laughter and tears. Should I have bought more decorations? I will miss her wicked wit. I will miss her soft heart and hard head. I need to order more pictures. And so, I make lists. Before I cross that last item off, I add one to the bottom. I should refinish the hardwood floors.
I am my father’s daughter. But I am also my daughter’s mother, and, though I may not have learned the lesson from him, I have learned this lesson from her. I must not fill every second with the busyness of avoiding feeling these feelings. More importantly, I must not fill up every second with busyness and miss out on spending time with her.
I took this picture on the highway near Verlot. It was such a beautiful day and we were shooting her senior pictures. I snapped it as she was walking down the road. It seemed fitting for this post.