the company of women

as much as i kicked and screamed and cried when told i would be leaving my little old french pine table, and the turn-of-the-century lithographs of little bo peep and her sheep that grace the walls here in this once-garage.

as much as i still ache for the hours of being alone here in this old house, of starting a slow-cooked stew, or tossing in a load of darks when the laundry basket groans under the immensity of all the piled-up sweat and stain that comes from three boy bodies.

as much as i miss looking out the window, catching shifting shadows, watching birds pop worms into each other’s mouths, marking seasons come and go.

as much as all that, i have discovered for the first time in a long time that rare gift of slipping into a circle in which the inhabitants all hold each other up; not only understand each other’s lives, but in varying shades and combinations live that very life.

at the place where i type three days a week, we have, all of us, found ourselves plonked into pre-assigned seats, complete with chair, drawers and computer.

oddly, curiously, the cluster of four part-time working mamas are assigned to desks across the great divide from nearly all the others. right off, we felt sequestered, whispered to ourselves that we’d been banished to some siberia.

we call our cove of desks “the cul-de-sac,” and while we hear the chatter from beyond the great divide, hear the peals of laughter from the jokes they seem to share, watch them come and go to lunch, pass bonbons as well as bon mots, we’ve come to not mind, really.

you see, in between the typing and the phone calls, we’ve begun to weave together the interstitia of our lives.

we know who was up at 3 rocking her baby, and never did get back to sleep (while the baby’s father, mind you, snoozed the night away). we see how the tired one now sits listing in her chair, wearing washed-out pallor with her sharp black boots and sweater, in the phosphorescent glow of the grey-green office light. and, each one of us having been there once upon a time, we all but race to her side, prop her up with dark chocolate and deep sighs.

we all gasp, collectively, when the call comes in from the school nurse, and one of our little ones has succumbed to a head bump, complete with spurting blood. and stitches, suddenly, are the order of the day. and we put our heads together, counsel on the virtues of pediatric plastic surgeon versus run-of-the-mill ER doc, when it comes to sewing thick black thread through the gash in that once-flawless. still perfect, kindergarten face, the one we all know from the pictures that ring his mommy’s desk.

we laugh, or else we’ll cry we decided, when lamenting the heartache that will come when the one whose husband lost his job has to take on full-time work, leaving home a baby not yet six months old, because the home economics hold no room for only working three days, no room for two extra days a week cradling that baby whose smiles she can’t bear to miss. for even one hour, let alone the extra 16.5 she’ll have to lose. (we have done the math, down to the minute, racking our brains to shave a half an hour here or there.)

and sometimes, in between the triumph of a masterfully crafted sentence and the groans of a deadline we can’t meet, the snippets of conversation, the truths exchanged, are so truthful, and so stirring, i find myself tossing them round and round my head for days after they are uttered.

just this week for instance, or maybe it was last week (the days all blur, i tell you), i’d been recounting some homefront frustration, the barely-capped angst with which i met the morning’s revelation that a winter coat was, um, left across town the night before, in a gymnasium, now surely locked, where i would have to knock in vain (and wintry cold) in distant hope of retrieving said essential garment.

somehow, i can’t remember quite the line of questioning, i looked up and asked the sleepless one, who has a girl of four besides the baby, if she had ever raised her voice at that blessed child, the four-year-old. ever?

she paused, thought for a good while, sheepishly smiled, then answered, “no, i don’t think i ever have.”

quickly, she blamed it on her particular four-year-old. “she’s sooo good,” said the mama, brushing off any credit for this stunning revelation.

i sat stunned, all right. still do, pretty much.

ever since, i’ve been walking through my waking hours, especially here at home, reaching for her placid heights. i am channeling, with all my might, her very gentleness, her calm.

“if she can do it–not raise her voice in four whole years–i can try to get through just one morning’s rush out the door and off to school without the knee-jerk rise in decibels, the clipped syllables, the huff and puff that comes from hurry and the dread of missing that old school bus.”

i repeat it like a mantra, hour after hour.

and as the days and weeks go by, i’m coming to realize how very much i carry home the company of splendid women who fill my downtown days.

i find that not only do they bring me solace in the typing place, but here at home, i’m inspired too. trying to live up to the good grace of the one who does not yell, the smarts, the dead-pan funny of each and every one.

i’ve found, once again in my most blessed life, that being surrounded by a phalanx of smart strong women is, of all the prescriptions i know, among the surest for getting through the bumps, the curves and full-out tailspins that come at any turn.

tell me about the company of women (or men) who are your saving grace….