I sat down to dinner recently and noticed something amiss. My otherwise-perfect and untouched plate of food sported an ear of corn with a shaggy crop circle in the middle of the cob about the size of a preschooler's mouth. I looked to Child the Younger, sitting to my right, and asked him if he knew what had happened. He smiled jubilantly, his baby teeth clotted with yellow kernels.
I have learned from parenting that there is birthed, along with the child, a never-ending list of things-- both done and undone-- for which to be sorry on both sides. This parenting thing is a project without blueprints, continually under construction, using tools that are as frequently inadequate, shoddy, missing or downright dangerous as they are right for the job. If a day on the parenting jobsite is particularly heinous, I may think of the list I have posted at my desk just to remind myself to laugh:
The Six Phases of a Project:
1. Wild Enthusiasm
4. Search for the Guilty
5. Punishment of the Innocent
6. Praise and Honors for the Non-Participants
One project I managed to complete on my recent vacation was reading Brady Udall's magnificent novel The Lonely Polygamist. This is a Big Book, in both a physical and an existential sense; it is the American family writ large. Golden Richards is a big man (known to some as "Sasquatch") with three houses, four wives and twenty-eight children. He has problems. Big problems. While his lifestyle creates and magnifies difficulties, his internal struggles could belong to anyone. He attempts to keep his contracting business and his family finances afloat with a morally questionable project: his wives think the brothel he's building in Nevada is a senior center. His wives don't understand him and his children don't really know him. The story builds upon the alternating points of view of Golden, Trish (his fourth and newest wife), and Rusty (the eleven-year-old son of his third wife.) Trish is at a crossroads in her marriage while Rusty hatches a revenge plot for the bungling of his "special" birthday. At the center for each of these characters is a smoldering sun of grief blinding them in various ways to the complicated landscape. Golden grieves a lost daughter, Trish grieves a lost son, and Rusty is a ticking time bomb of grief waiting to happen. In all of this Udall manages to find the inherent humor in each situation, much of it laugh-out-loud funny. Within the mundane Udall raises Big questions, but the one that percolates through and ultimately lifts the book far above anything else I have read recently is this:
How big is love?
This is a question echoed by the deservedly popular HBO television series Big Love which I also highly recommend. Bill Henrickson is a modern-day polygamist living in suburban Salt Lake City with his three sister-wives, their numerous children and houses, and all of the complications and frustrations of his chosen lifestyle. His ties with a fundamentalist compound bring trouble, as do his business arrangements. Can one man find a way to keep it all together when forces both internal and external threaten constantly to tear it apart? Faith and love are big, but are they big enough?
In her memoir The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance Elna Baker discusses the issues that come with Big Faith. By turns utterly hilarious and painfully embarrassing, this described "Mormon Tina Fey" tells tales of what it's like to be an abstinent and religious single young woman in a city that's pretty much...not. Along the way she loses eighty pounds and takes a series of fascinating jobs ( I was entranced by her description of life as an "adoption specialist" for ridiculously expensive baby dolls at FAO Schwarz.) The heartbreak that ensues is predictable, but Baker finds the humor in each situation and manages introspection along with stories such as showing up to a Halloween dance dressed in a failed costume that makes her look, quite accidentally, like a giant part of the female anatomy.
The holds lists may be lengthy for some of these, but believe me: the love is Big. And worth the wait