Red Diaper Dharma Archives
- Cassie Premo Steele
Bill Sonnenschein March 15, 1949 – December 29, 2008 All of us at Literary Mama are deeply saddened to learn of the death of columnist Ericka Lutz’s husband Bill Sonnenschein. On Monday, December 29, after only a few hours of …
A painting I did the first year Bill and I were together shows a field of green. In the center there’s a floating bed, and in the middle of the bed two people, face to face, stare into each others’ eyes and hold each other. That was what we were like those first years. We held each other and saved each other and were each other’s everything.
Time passed, and of course we changed; we had to, and it was appropriate that we did. We moved out into our own worlds, but we kept that connection.
One of my favorite Roz Chast cartoons shows a woman in her forties or fifties wearing a flowing baggy dress with a wild hairstyle and clunky jewelry. The words read: Are you entering your “Goddess” years? Have you gotten heavily into herbal teas, especially the “soothing” varieties? Has your husband recently purchased an expensive sports car? What’s with the hair? This cartoon makes me convulse with laughter and cringe with a bit too much recognition. Am I her? Am I that? Is she my future?
My daughter turns sixteen this month. Not such a sweet sixteen, a birthday plagued by the presidential election. I ask her what she thinks of the conflagration: red state vs. blue state, culture wars and fear. She fixes me with the Teenage Fisheye: “You’re the one who hates this. I like talking politics.”
I know people who seem to morph: one year she’s a radical lesbian scorning the system, and five years later she’s an upper-middle class doctor’s wife driving carpool; one year he’s the CFO of a pharmaceutical startup, and five years later he’s grown a shaggy beard and lives in an old-growth Redwood tree in Humboldt County. I don’t usually think of myself as so mutable, but I’ve recently morphed into a Popular Girl; I just beat a thousand other authors for the Grand Prize in an Internet popularity contest.
It’s last month. We’re on a road trip, Annie and I. Nine days through California, Nevada, and Arizona. Motels and hotels, national parks and ghost towns, road food. It’s June, it’s hot, and the car is small. Annie is a teenage girl and I’m her mother, and on paper this all sounds like a recipe for conflict and disaster, yet she’s the easiest traveling companion I’ve ever had.
I ran feral for five or six years in my early twenties. These are years my family knows little about. Oh, I sometimes share a few impressive incidents here and there: the solo bike ride across France against Le Mistral wind; my year as a topless dancer and drink hustler in San Francisco; that time in Yugoslavia when I picked up a sailor, was stranded on a Croatian island, and got bitten by a bat. And too many of my stories begin with, “I had this one boyfriend who . . .” My daughter Annie just rolls her eyes.
Like our dog Mollie, a brown-eyed, sausage-bodied Labrador-mix, my family is completely obsessed with food. Some families drink, and that’s a part of their culture. Some do sports. Some focus on academics. And some eat. We eat.
Bill and I have been going on about life, and it’s been good. The same house for the last nine years, the same university jobs, slow increases in salary and in the quality of our cars, and slow decreases in our personal exterior beauty. Yes, we have our small dramas, emotional ebbs and flows, but we’re stable. Recently, I’ve been coming to grips with the idea that we’re aging, that now is a season for internal growth, adventures are for the young . . . and that this is okay because we’re happy, evolving, and growing deeper . . . Then, six weeks ago, the President of Madagascar asked Bill to come and act as his Special Advisor.
How do you parent a teenager, how do you raise an independent child without either suppressing her spirit or making her feel uncared for? Maybe I struggle with this because of my own, rather unusual, upbringing. As a young child, my parents were, appropriately, very Hands On, but when I became a teenager, they became very Hands Off.
Unlike the disciplined writers I know and admire who get bits done every day, I write in blurts, in bursts, in short binges fueled by roasted unsalted almonds, dark chocolate, dried apricots, herbal tea, and good black coffee. I write in the middle of the night, I write in cafés. These bursts are punctuated by long weeks of lethargy and time wasting and not writing. And then whenever I can, I hole up somewhere with my laptop and go on a major bender.