In the game of musical furniture that has been our house since B was born – the dance that is accommodating stages of development and sleep patterns and locations – our glider has known a number of settings. The one it boasts now – just inside our bedroom – is my all-time favorite because it offers a clear, clean view of a small, inexpensively framed, somewhat crumpled (and then flattened by glass) print: a replica of Jules Bastien-Lepage’s Joan of Arc.
When I first discovered this painting at the Met – years ago, another life, an indulgent life that knew whole days spent wandering museums with no concern for nap time or snacks or patience running thin – I was undone by it: by her indescribable expression, by the longing and the listening and the awe and the acceptance and the confusion and the inevitability that her face, impossibly, manages to convey all at once. A particular kind of hunger that I felt in my bones, a restlessness that is more good than bad, but still aches. So when I left the Met that day I carried a thin, overly shiny, tiny (compared to its life-sized counterpart) cardboard replica under my arm because I couldn’t stand to leave her behind altogether.
For years, her presence in my home has made me feel that ache. Every time I see the print, wherever it happens to be hanging, I feel both understood and deeply sad.
All of which is to say that I’ve noticed something sweet lately.
Bram has been super into rocking in his glider again. He demands it several times a day: “Rock me, mama,” he’ll say. “Wagon Wheel, mama” (from his position of believing that that song is 100% about being rocked in a wide, soft, dark brown glider and sung to by your mother). “Rocking chair, one more song,” he’ll insist when I try to get up. “Yittle bit milkies, Pomo?,” he’ll ask J during their sessions. It’s the sweetest. So we spend a lot of time in that chair, which now, wonderfully, means I get a lot of time with Joan.
But here’s what I’ve noticed that’s sort of just amazing: when I’m rocking him, I recognize her loneliness, but I don’t feel it. I feel all of the love and sympathy that I’ve always felt for her, but I don’t ache. Instead, I feel contented and unbroken. That this feeling comes when I’m alone in a cool, dark, quiet room singing to my only (right now) worlded child is a gift. It feels like it answers some questions.
I’ve been all over the place about not finding a job yet this season: angry, disappointed, relieved, thrilled. But as we narrow down our options and move towards actual real-live choices about where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing, the one thing we know we want to prioritize is keeping Dragon home for at least close to as long as Bram has been home. All the way to preschool if financially possible. For us, now, that means me continuing to teach part-time, nights if possible, and J staying full-time (though hopefully in a different job, and likely a different city).
So even as I’m feeling all the other stuff that is, for sure, real, I am flooded with a kind of triumphant joy at the thought of this kind of time with this next child too. Being home is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done. I miss the highs of academic life. The soaring thrill of passionate discourse, the exhilaration, the speed-like euphoria. But none of that ever made me look at Joan of Arc with a distant kind of sisterly understanding. With sympathy, but no aching. That sweeping intensity never came with this kind of contentment. I’ll call it a sign and leave it at that.