Sunday, March 04, 2012

On Becoming Mrs. Haviland

Last night, for the second time in the last few weeks, Daisy Mae had a group of about 15 friends over for an impromptu party.  It hadn't started out that way.  It had started out with her wanting to invite over a new guy she was interested in, so they could "hang out" and "watch a movie".  I let her know that several hours together in a darkened room probably wasn't on the list of approved activities for the evening and suggested that he might be more comfortable for their first time 'hanging out' together outside of school if there were some other friends there.

She invited six friends.

Fifteen showed up.

Daisy Mae has nice friends, and their friends are nice too, so I wasn't too freaked out by the extras.  We'd thrown together a bean dip, some veggies, and a pile of hot wings, so there was plenty of food.  Several of them brought snacks.  One of them brought a bottle of tonic.  I let him know he would not be drinking my gin with it. These kids behave themselves in the house, don't sneak beer in, and sometimes let me sing lead vocals on Rock Band.  I like them.

Around 9:00, as most of the kids were playing Rock Band in the family room, three of the kids joined me in the living room watching Sherlock Holmes for the fourteenth time.  One of them had just lost his dog and was feeling subdued; another is adjusting to life in her new foster home.  A third had "come out" over the summer, and is still adjusting to his shift from resident heartthrob of every girl in school with a pulse to the guy nobody is quite sure how to deal with.  All were snuggled under blankets on the couches, sharing stories and jokes.  And it occurred to me:

I have become Mrs. Haviland.

My friend Jimmy Haviland was a year ahead of me in school.  He was a musician and an actor, and he had four younger sisters, one of whom hung around with my sister.  He perpetually wore an expression that suggested he had a sinus headache.  We proclaimed it his "I have four little sisters" face.  Jimmy's house was the default party headquarters.  Cast parties, choir parties, band parties, Halloween, New Years.  I had never been in the house that there weren't at least a half dozen people there who were not full-time residents.

Jimmy's mom was a caterer who always had party food on hand.  She also was perpetually worried about her son falling in with the wrong crowd, so her way of handling the situation was to always welcome Jimmy's friends over to their house.  There was a Mr. Haviland, too.  His job was normally to drive the van, which at any given time invariably contained at least two children who were not members of the Haviland household. He managed, always, to disappear when the house started getting crowded with kids.

Mrs. Haviland never let any of us in or out of her home without a hug, and she called all of us "baby" or "sweetheart" by default.  She maintained a permanent position at the kitchen island:  when she wasn't cooking, she was on a bar stool, drinking a coffee or a soda, or occasionally a glass of wine.  If you felt out of place with the crowd in the basement, you were always welcome to take up a spot at one of the kitchen stools, grab a snack and talk.  You would, of course, be pressed into cutting vegetables, frosting cupcakes, or helping one of Jimmy's sisters with a recalcitrant Barbie outfit.  It's not that there weren't rules; it was certainly not an "anything goes" kind of household.  She didn't brook fighting, bad behavior or underage drinking.  And she could lose her temper with the best of them.  But you always knew you were safe there.  She was always Mom Haviland.

Last night, one of Daisy's friends asked me if he could hang out here a bit more often.  "Things are awfully stressful at my house lately.  It's not my mom's fault; she's doing her best.  But sometimes it's pretty overwhelming there.  I feel like I can be myself here."  I didn't press him for details; there were too many other kids in and out of the room.  But I felt absolutely honored.  I just told him he was always welcome here, so long as his mom knew where he was.  Maybe next time, he will open up a bit more about what's going on.

Mom Haviland.  I could do a lot worse.  If I can do half as well at this as you did, I'll feel like a success at this parenting thing.

Friday, March 02, 2012


I posted once before about how much it bothered me when I read some of the letters I received after the Bug left us.  They were from parents who had also lost their children and I recall that when I read their notes, the pain and grief in their writing was so palpable that it frightened me.  It frightened me that, years, or even decades after losing their children, their pain seemed so fresh that I worried I would never feel good again. 

This week, in a town not too far from here, the unthinkable happened:  A student walked into a high school cafeteria and opened fire, killing three students and leaving two others hospitalized.  I thought of those parents and the horrible, crushing, claxon-loud grief that was taking over their lives.  I watched the interview with the parents of the first child to be declared dead after the shootings and listened as they recounted, in heart-wrenching detail, last moments of their son's life.  I've heard some people criticize the television stations for recording and broadcasting that interview; their grief was so raw, the narrative so overwhelming that one might question whether they were being exploited. 

Perhaps they were.  But speaking from experience, I can tell you that there is a catharsis in telling those stories, in sharing that raw emotion.  We had TV cameras in our faces, and in the faces of our family, more than once in those first few days after the Bug died.  I thought it would feel like more of an intrusion than it actually was.  There was something strangely comforting in being able to tell the world exactly how much we were hurting.

And strangely, I find myself wanting to write to these parents.  To bid them a grim welcome to the club nobody wants to belong to.  To let them know we have far more members than any of us wants to admit.  To tell them that it's totally, totally OK to scream "Bullshit!  What the hell to you know about this??" when reading articles and books about grieving.  That it's OK to want to sleep all the time.  But mostly that they.  will.  survive. 

I won't do it right away.  If there is one thing I know, it's that you do not want the comfort of strangers in those first weeks.  You want to surround yourself with family and close friends -- people who have seen you in pajamas and who love you anyway.  People who will let you rage and cry and punch holes in your walls and won't try to stop you.  I hope these families have plenty of good support people in their lives.  They will need them.

But maybe in a few weeks, when the cameras have gone away and the friends have gone home and the house feels so cold and empty.  Maybe then I'll gather up the nerve to say, "if you need to talk to someone who's a little farther down this road, who can help you navigate the scary parts, call. You are not alone."

I just hope I don't sound scary.