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The Way Things Should Be

Blue Bangs

Sweet Juliette in Blue Bangs: The Way Things Should Be

We’ll have it good
We’ll have the life we knew we would
My word is good

— From the Plain White Ts and Hey There Delilah

The Way Things Should Be

One day, several years ago when Juliette was in preschool, she had a particularly bad day. I asked her how she would like things to be and she responded: The way they should be.

In the early 1990s, I had a friend who went through a terrible divorce. She said one day she came home from work and found an orange note tacked to the front door that said he was leaving. Not really believing it, she went to the garage to see if his dartboard was gone. When she saw that it was she knew he was never coming back.

He really liked to throw darts.

Devastated as she was after the divorce was final she threw away all their wedding pictures. They had no children for whom to save them. She cut up his socks and his baby pictures, too. “They were the kind of pictures a mother would have liked to have had,” she said.

When Juliette’s dad and I separated 12 years ago, I kept every card and letter we’d ever given to each other and every photo of our lives taken between 1988 and 1999. For more than a decade I’ve kept the 11-year-long past we shared together in a bin in the basement.

Of course, I mostly kept these things for Juliette who was only 15 months old when we divorced. In fact, if not for her, I might have been tempted to cut some stuff up, too. But, everything in that box contributed to her coming into the world and I thought she might like to have it someday.

Inside this bin were dozens of cards and letters; scrapbooks; the wedding album, dress, veil, sheet music, and cake topper; photo albums and more.

Historic Flood Destroys Cards, Letters

There are 50 bins in my basement. Most of them are filled with holiday decorations. A few are filled with junk like old curtains I think I might use one day and clothes the kids have outgrown. On Monday, a historic flood hit Oklahoma City. All these bins were sitting in at least a foot of water. The bin I was saving for Juliette was the only bin I found floating on its side. It had taken in a few gallons of water and 50 percent of everything inside was destroyed.

I remarried seven years ago, and two nights ago my husband Robert helped me carry the bin upstairs. He helped me go through the cards and letters one by one. We opened them up and laid them out to dry. He helped me cut from albums pictures drenched in water. Together, we covered the kitchen and dining room with my past.

It’s one of the kindest and most selfless things Robert has ever done for me.

Except for the wedding pictures, he had never seen any of these things. There was plenty to take in, including a slew of pictures of me in my twenties. There was so much I’d forgotten. I’m glad I didn’t have to walk through the past alone.

In the morning, the things we were able to save were dry. I gathered them up and put them in a new box. They continue to await an older Juliette. I confess I wonder if she will ever be able to absorb the hopes and promises in that box, not to mention the poetry of it all. In some ways, maybe it’s better if she doesn’t.

Burying the Past in Bins in the Basement

Over the years, I’ve worried over that bin almost more than any other. This was, after all, not the first time we’ve had problems in the basement. In addition, keeping tabs on all those bins hasn’t been easy. Easter ends up with Halloween, and I never know which bin New Year’s and July 4th are in.

Somehow, Sully’s baby clothes get mixed in with Bridgette’s and Juliette’s childhood toys migrate from bins into the little ones toy boxes upstairs. I was very uncomfortable storing that bin downstairs. Metaphorically, it felt like I was burying my past. If I’d stored it in an attic, I’m sure I would have felt like it was casting a shadow. But, I didn’t want it in the bedroom I share with Robert, and we live in an old house with very little closet space.

Still, I never let the memories in that bin get far away from me, all those remnants of a young bride, a new mother. The contents told unbiased stories, the ones we would have told before we became jaded. They were my memoir of evidence and proof – a flood of photos and cards that provided – depending on your rain gear – a deluge of facts or fiction.

The contents told unbiased stories, the ones we would have told before we became jaded.

With the exception of a few wedding pictures, I don’t think I’ve ever shared anything that was inside that bin with Juliette, but she’s getting older, and so yesterday, I showed her a random card. She read it, smiled, and handed it back. I realized at that moment that her spirit is coated with water repellant.

500-Year Flood

I hold fast to the conviction that Truth is not subjective. I will never believe that it is, and I am committed to embracing it no matter how many layers of my own skin it peels back. I believe it is alive, found in Christ. It is Christ, a healing love. Sometimes, a 500-year-flood comes at you from out of nowhere and the boat you’re in tips over or takes in water faster than you can bail it out. Marriage, like the ocean, can be both dark and celestial.

But, it is summer, and before we know it, August will be here. Juliette will return to school and a strict uniform code of skirts down to there and solid white or solid black shoes only, please. And, don’t highlight or bleach your hair, thank you very much, gracias.

So, in the aftermath of a 500-year deluge and June, I surrender to adolescent whims and bleach the underscore of her bangs. With Splat hair paint we color them bright blue. She exclaims that I am the best mommy in the whole world. It means everything to me to see her this exuberant, and I will take nothing for this moment.

As We Should Be

Later I tell her that I’ve been thinking about something. About how things aren’t always the way they should be, but that it doesn’t mean we can’t be as we should be. The moments of perfection we share with people are not diminished by their brevity. And, that when God’s Spirit dwells within us, we stand a better chance at right responses to all the things that shouldn’t be, but are.

…Tonight you look so pretty
Yes you do
Times Square can’t shine as bright as you
I swear it’s true…

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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5 Comments

  1. Laura

    Jennifer. You are a fantastic mother. Really. You have such a wonderful, joyful family. And, you are an absolutely amazing, beautiful, powerful person. I love and admire you tremendously!

  2. le@thirdontheright

    Jen that man of yours is just amazing … he reminds me of MIC in many ways … This act of kindness and sharing and the strength he provides to you and the family on a daily basis is awe inspiring. Love to you le

  3. Something Happened Somewhere Turning

    Wow, that was very moving and brilliantly written. And how great to have your husband help you sort your past. Thanks for sharing this experience with us. I think you have a great family Jen. I just love your writing.

  4. Anonymous

    My God, girl. Where did you find this? “The moments of perfection we share with people are not dimished by their brevity.”

  5. Jessica Miller-Merrell

    Jen,

    I really like this and it resonated with me. Yes, I was married once before and although I didn’t have any children with the x, it is still an important part of my life. While my pictures aren’t in the basement they are stored away. You reminded me that someday my little girl will need to know where I’ve been, the good and the bad.

    Thanks,

    Jessica
    @blogging4jobs

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