“Into our darkness and fear, come Lord Jesus, be our light.”
Hadley had a friend over recently, whom I’m calling Magdalene. When she arrived, she did not respond when I greeted her. She did not look me in the eye, or acknowledge me at all. Instead, she slammed her backpack on the floor, and began to floss to the beat and melody of, “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman,” except the words had something to do with killing and then burying a body.
Then, Magdalene asked what was wrong with our walls. No wall in our house is the same color. It was like this when we bought it, and Jesse and I haven’t had the time or the money to redecorate. I did not explain this to Magdalene. Instead, I offered her lunch.
“Ew, no. I already ate,” she said, grabbing Hadley and taking her upstairs.
I promise I wasn’t going upstairs to snoop. The room where I write is upstairs, and so that’s where I was going, to write. I lit a pumpkin spice candle, queued up Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, and set out to finish an essay I was working on about wasps living in our walls.
I heard words like, “freak,” “frick,” and anything close to the mother of all swears coming from Magdalene’s mouth. The girls were playing Roblox and Magdalene said she wanted to “obliterate” another player because “she’s frickin’ driving me crazy.”
And then: “You know what drives me nuts about ALL moms?” I paused Miles’ music. Please, Magdalene, tell me what drives you nuts about ALL moms, I thought.
“They turn into freakin’ SHE DEVILS when they’re stressed.”
I waited to hear Hadley’s response—to agree or defend—but none came. None that I could hear, anyway.
Magdalene went on. “I mean, they FREAK every night about dinner. ‘What am I gonna make? What am I gonna make?’ Like, WHO CARES?”
I blew out my candle, and stomped downstairs.
That night, I drove Hadley to her first lock-in at the church we attend. For the duration of our short trip, I said nothing because I told myself not to say anything. I even prayed, “God, don’t let me say anything about my anger toward Magdalene.” But we turned off Packard, away from a small grocery store with hay stacks and pumpkins, and a picture on the store’s window of a goat and I think a deer sitting together having coffee, and I lost it. I laid into Hadley.
When she is spoken to by an adult, I told her, she makes eye contact, and she responds. When a parent offers her food, she takes it unless she truly isn’t hungry, and then she says, “No, thank you,” but not before turning to her friend and asking if that friend is hungry. She is not to turn Disney songs into horror stories.
“And you never disrespect a mother—anyone’s mother.”
I was just taking off on this flight. As we drove past the fraternity and sorority houses with red cups thrown all over the lawns and pumpkins and twinkle lights and cornstalks, and the college kids sauntered in their Uggs and Vans looking at their phones I lectured passionately about how hard all moms work, that things like what’s for dinner do stress us out because some of our kids have the taste of three year olds and there is only so much you can do with a hot dog, and never did I want her to take part in a conversation like the one I heard this afternoon.
Hadley was silent during my rant, and she was silent as we walked together into church. I held Hadley’s sleeping bag and a giant bucket of animal crackers she’d brought to share with the youth group and as we walked through the doors I said, “Magdalene is not welcome in our home again.”
Growing up, I had a friend I’ll call Eve, and she was everything I wasn’t. She was loud, aggressive, great at sports, smart, and she questioned everything. Eve didn’t say “frick” or “freak.” She was prolific in f-bombs. Plus, she was a self-declared atheist. I might’ve gone to public schools, but one mile outside of Chicago’s city limits where, most kids had last names that started with O (O’Connor, O’Rourke, O’Hannigan), where walking home from school I heard the organists in the Catholic churches on almost every corner practicing for that weekend’s Mass, God was alive and well. He rooted for the Chicago Bears, Notre Dame, and the only question was not of his existence, but whether He liked Johnny’s or Gina’s Italian Ice better (Gina’s).
I loved Eve. We shot hoops while memorizing and analyzing the lyrics to Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” She helped me with my hockey puck flick, showing me how to bend the end of the stick and put more weight on my right foot in order to give the puck air. “If you can do this on a gravelly alley way, you can do this in the gym,” she told me. She was right. Floor hockey was the only sport I dominated, and it was because of Eve.
Five days before I turned 15, on a Sunday afternoon, Eve called to see if I could come over. I would never consider my parents strict, but mine is a family of peace and quiet and reverence. Unless we were having dinner parties or my mom was playing Motown. There was a time for everything, is what I’m trying to say. Like Monica Geller says on Friends, ours is a family that likes to control the fun.
Plus, I knew my parents weren’t Eve’s biggest fans.
But I asked and was surprised to hear a yes from them, and before they had a chance to change their minds, I was out of the house and walking towards Eve’s place.
When I arrived, her mother told me Eve was in the basement and also, not to turn the lights on until I got downstairs—said something about a short circuit.
Down into the dark I went not even considering why Eve would sit in the basement waiting for me to turn the lights on. On the last stair, the lights turned on and probably thirty kids screamed, “Surprise!” and then, “Happy Birthday!” There is a picture of this moment somewhere in my photo albums and in it, I am showing nothing but sheer surprise and utter delight.
As far as I know, Eve organized the whole thing, including telling my parents what the plan was. She bought me the VHS copy of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” partly as a joke, partly because she knew how much I loved the story of Ariel finding her way in a world she loved but wasn’t sure she was created for, and a father who let her figure it out.
Besides the story of Judas, the one in the Bible that bothers me the most is the story where Jesus ditches his parents to hang out in church. I’m annoyed he never told them where he’d be, and that he was annoyed with them that they didn’t know.
Poor Mary, I always think. She must’ve been terrified. And then, when she finds him, Jesus is all, “Mom. Didn’t you know this is where I’d be?” And we’re all supposed to be like, “Riiiiight. Lesson learned. This is the Lord’s work. This is God’s plan.”
Dear Jesus in Heaven, what about a mother’s pain? A mother’s worry? A mother’s constant concern over whether she’s doing any of this right? Was Mary told exactly what this whole plan was when Gabriel visited her when she was twelve? I mean, did she understand the timeline, or just what the overall mission was? Because I’m thinking if an angel told me my kid is coming to save the world, I sure as hell better keep him safe so he can do it when the time comes.
Maybe the reason I’m bothered by this story so much is that I think Jesus is reminding Mary of what she promised when Gabriel visited: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” I suppose it doesn’t matter how good, how attentive, how wise, how prepared Mary was. It doesn’t matter how she feels or what she’s afraid of or what she questions because being in the hands of a God who catches the helpless and drags them off in his net is a done deal.
Two days before Thanksgiving I’m sitting in my second carpool line of the day waiting for Hadley to come outside. My mind scrambles with things that need to get done: homework, piano, and soccer practice, lunches for tomorrow, we are leaving for Raleigh and need to pack, and yes, dinner needs to be made.
I hate this part of the day. What I want to do is take a walk at dusk with a friend and a cup of coffee, wander around a library, or maybe traipse through U of M’s campus and eavesdrop on as many conversations as I can. I don’t want to do any of what I am supposed to do.
Hadley gets in the car holding what looks like a party favor bag.
“Who’s that from?” I ask.
“Magdalene,” she says, smiling. “She put together Thanksgiving bags for all of us, and taped them to our lockers. I found it this morning.”
She shakes the bag and out comes candy, a pack of clay, and other goodies.
“That was so sweet,” I say, and I want to say more: that I’m sorry for how much I get wrong; that I rarely know what I’m doing when it comes to this motherhood gig; that everything feels new and wonderful and scary at the same time.
Instead, I put the car in drive and ask what the girls want for dinner.
“You have any mac ‘n cheese?” Hadley asks.
“How about toasted P, B, and J?” Harper suggests.
“I’ll make both,” I say.
Hadley rips open a package of candy, pours a few pieces in her hand, and offers it to Harper and me.
“Thanks!” we both say.
“Sure,” Hadley says, and we drive on in silence, while what Magdalene has shared with us digests.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.