Jo’s face was a study next day, for the secret rather weighed upon her, and she found it hard not to look mysterious and important. Meg observed it, but did not trouble herself to make inquiries, for she had learned that the best way to manage Jo was by the law of contraries, so she felt sure of being told everything if she did not ask.
– Louisa May Alcott, American novelist, from Little Women
When the kids were younger, I used to take them on weekend trips to my sister’s home in Folsom, about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Bay Area. My mom had been living with my middle sister Joyce and her husband when my nephew, Joshua, was born almost 18 years ago. Jacob was born 3.5 years later. When Isabella came along 2.5 years after Jacob, and David was working a lot of overtime hours, I sought refuge, relief, and motherhood support in Folsom. There, my mom doted over her three grandkids and I hung out, exhausted on the family room sofa, enjoying the cozy retreat. Oftentimes, I had to bring work, but I always carved out time for catching my breath, flipping through Joyce’s stack of People magazines late at night, and gabbing around the kitchen table.
We visited a lot, and my kids really loved spending time with their cousin and their “lola,” my mom. Once Jacob started playing youth baseball, my work encroached beyond the 50-hour work week, and the three-hour roundtrip became too onerous, we didn’t visit as much. Joshua didn’t want February birthday parties anymore, so we didn’t come that month, and soon, we only came at Easter, my mom’s birthday in June, and Christmastime, then just June and December. I harbored feelings of regret, which got eaten whole, by everyone’s schedule and the resulting exhaustion. The kids complained about not visiting as often, and after my mom passed away three years ago, it was difficult when we did visit. Somehow, Jacob and Isabella became aware of the fact that when kids graduate from high school, they “go away from the house” afterwards, whether it be for college or work.
Their oldest cousin, Nick, on David’s side of the family, Joshua, and my college roommate’s son Grant are all seniors this year. In Jacob’s and Isabella’s eyes, they were going to be leaving their homes and that meant the two of them wouldn’t be able to see them easily anymore. Last year, they started lobbying for me to set up the next dinner with my college roommates so they could get together again with Grant and his younger brother Michael. They wanted to stay longer in Stockton, where David’s parents live, during the holidays to visit with Nick and their other cousins. And they especially bugged me about going to Folsom more – like old times – so they could hang out with Joshua. I’m glad they infused me with their urgency, which ignited my own urgency, which had been smothered by my to-do list and other obligations.
Though I didn’t have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day off, the kids had a three-day weekend, Jacob finished his semester so he didn’t have any weekend homework, and we had no sports commitment on Saturday. Seize the day, I told myself. Go to Folsom. The kids were ecstatic. And even I looked forward to relaxing a bit, which I wasn’t able to do this past Christmas in Folsom. I even looked forward to driving, listening to mellow music, letting my mind drift, enjoying the gray skies and the landscape bathed in a sheath of fog. I caught myself getting excited to see mom, who used to always answer the door when we arrived. When Joyce answered the door this time, however, I was overcome by that old home-away-from-home feeling, which took my hand and led me in.
Joyce made spaghetti sauce and pasta for lunch for us. Now that she’s retired, she’s cooking, which is saying a lot for someone who had a framed saying that declared “I’d cook if I could find the can opener.” She informed me that she had “ceremoniously dumped it [the framed picture] last month.” I brought our thick binder of favorite recipes, and I marked with stick-it notes the recipes I thought she would like – easy ones with few ingredients – though she requested recipes that didn’t call for exotic ingredients that can’t be found in a regular grocery store. I’m thrilled that she’s cooking healthful meals and not eating a lot of processed frozen foods, which were her staple during her long days of teaching. It was fun to share recipes with her. And I was surprised and delighted to hear that she bought a ukulele and would take up an instrument that she had longed to play for a while. As she talked, I was content to see her finally relaxed because much of her working life was filled with deadlines, stress, report cards, and difficult students and parents. I was happy for her.
We ran errands, with Isabella tagging along. We checked out the premium outlets. We Enrado women have a history of shopping, a tradition of shopping the day after Thanksgiving to get our Christmas gifts bought and out of the way and the day after Christmas to spend the $100 my mom gave each of us for Christmas. We would get up early and she’d drive us to the malls in either Bakersfield or Visalia. Of course, we would make our dollar stretch and buy clothes and accessories on sale and on clearance. When Joyce and I came home from the Folsom shops, Joshua was sprawled across the family room sofa, his pillow leaning against Isabella, while Jacob was spread out across the other sofa. Aside from the fact that they were watching the dreaded show, Walking Dead, a sense of contentment was draped around me at the sight of the three of them hanging out, if only for a very short weekend.
After dinner, Joyce suggested we spend the evening watching the movie Bridesmaids, which I hadn’t seen but she did see when her old high school friends were in town a few years ago. I’d always wanted to see it, having heard good reviews, but never got around to doing it, which seems to be a constant theme in my life. The movie was funny, and it was actually heartwarming for me to watch this chick-flick with my sister. At points during the movie, I was conscious of the fact that we hadn’t sat down and watched a movie like this – outside of a few distracted times with kids zipping in and out of the family room – since I was an undergraduate at UC Davis, spending the day or weekend with Joyce, who had recently graduated from Cal State Sacramento and was working and living in Sacramento, about 15 minutes from my campus. Those were the truly endless days when nothing seemed pressing, and it was so easy to pop over and hang out.
Sunday morning, with the kids in charge of steering Nellie, the family dog, Joyce and I chatted while walking to the park and pond and around the neighborhood. It was cool and foggy, a perfect January day. She wanted me to walk with her because she felt she needed to exercise. I told her it was important to do some sort of exercise every day, how she ought to walk Nellie daily – both she and dog would benefit and she’d get some fresh air. I told her to keep moving. I told her about sleep studies that recommend women going to bed by 10PM. Knowing that she goes to bed late and sleeps in late, I told her she ought to push back her sleep pattern a few hours and her health would improve. I was always worried for her when she was teaching and only getting two to three hours of sleep a night.
After the walk she made soggy French toast, which we all ate not because we felt forced to, but because of gratitude. She had taken the time to make it. I was really proud of her. Not in a condescending way because David makes really wonderful meals and I’ve been cooking regularly for years, but proud that she was proud of her cooking. The kids took off for Joshua’s room soon after eating half of their French toast. Since we had to leave midday to make it back in time for Jacob’s hitting lesson, and I had precious few hours left that Sunday morning, I decided to wait until I got home to take my shower. I wanted to hang out at the kitchen table and keep talking, just talking. We caught up on old classmates and family and relatives. I felt like we weren’t almost 53 and nearly 55. We were in our 20s in Joyce’s Sacramento apartment. We were teenagers in her Ford Pinto coming home from high school the next town over, fearful of the blanket of hot-white fog on Old Highway 65. We were 7 and 9, playing our homemade version of the Mystery Date Game, laughing at the dud guy behind the white board game door, in the cramped screened-in porch in the back of our house, on an endless summer Sunday afternoon.