My sister L gives me magazines: People, Vogue, sometimes Harper’s Bazaar or other fashion delights. She gets some from her neighbor, buys others, and passes them all on to me. I tuck them away and pore over them in stolen moments–after Free is in bed and everything on my list has been crossed off or transferred to the next list. In return, I subscribe to one or two magazines myself and pass whatever comes my way right back to her: Country Living, StyleWatch and the trashy gossip magazines I let myself buy in the summer months when I need to detox from working too hard the rest of the year. Reading these magazines is one of those habits that, up until I moved in with Newman, was a private indulgence, along the lines of TJMaxx/Marshall’s shopping sprees and reality TV. Once he discovered the habit, he called me on it gently, but now it is not unusual to find my magazines turning up in the bathroom where he tends to supplement his New Yorker reading with lighter fare.
I “read” these magazines quickly, flipping through them and quickly absorbing the images as I pick up trends, celebrity buzz, or recipes. As soon as I’ve flipped through an issue, I throw it in the recycling bin so it doesn’t lie around for Free to find. I’m conscious of the danger of some of these magazines to a young girl who is just starting to tune into the details of her body and how she carries herself in the world, my child who just last week begged to wear her “sports bra” to school–the one I’d bought her on a whim months ago when she noticed and asked for it in a TJMaxx. My eight year old, who now needs to wear deodorant to gymnastics practice, is asking me to buy her a book about “you know, private stuff,” and of course, I do know what it is she’s seeking. It’s not that I’m opposed to jumping into this stage if she’s ready; it’s just that I can’t believe she’s there already.
She’s still such a little girl to me. When she tried on her sports bra, for example, she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and excessively long lashes and said “it’s too tight on the bottom and too loose on top” with absolutely no awareness of what any of that meant. No girl her age is wearing these yet; there is simply no need. I’ve told her the story of how, when I was ten or eleven, my friend and I insisted that if the boys at the daycamp we attended could go shirtless, there was no reason we couldn’t too. We were mocked briefly and then, it was over, because there was no real difference between us and the boys. Free likes hearing such stories. She hates being limited or treated differently because she’s a girl. I’m not sure where the push for the sports bra is coming from or whether I should be letting her indulge it. I know she gets a kick out of it, and I get a kick out of that, but it’s also making me more conscious of what I do and say around her as I know she’s watching me closely to figure out what this woman/girl stuff is all about.
That’s why I have to hide the magazines. I got a new batch the other day, and I didn’t put them away quickly enough, and I came out of the bathroom yesterday to find her sprawled on my bed, flipping through People, the one where Angelina’s bravery is being trumpeted. I glanced over at her with as much nonchalance as I could muster–relieved that it wasn’t the Boston Marathon bombing victims memorial issue–and asked her what she was looking at.
“Mom, can you save this for me when you’re done? I really want it for my scrapbook!”
“Why, honey? That’s for grown-ups. It’s not that interesting, is it?” I asked hopefully.
Then she motioned for me to come and look, and she flipped through the pages, skipping all the stuff I was worried about and pointing out the images she was excited to cut out: a heart, a cute kitty, a woman with a big smile. I kissed her and told her it was hers and that I’d love to help her with her project. I remembered how many hours I spent, at her age, putting together homemade magazines with collaged illustrations, and I silently offered up a prayer of thanks that she is still my little girl, interested in what’s ahead, but still mostly oblivious to much of what it involves.
I, on the other hand, continue to read these magazines when I have some personal downtime, which is a pretty rare commodity in my life. I don’t know why I read them: because they’re there, I guess, and because they take me away from my lists and my inner stream of to-dos and to-don’ts. And, let’s face it, it’s fun to see celebrity photos, isn’t it?
And once in a while, there’s something that stops the quick flip and gives me pause.
Like tonight, as I was flipping through a recycled issue of Real Simple, I came across this brief quote by someone writing about what she wished she’d known earlier in life:
“I spent much of my former marriage trying to get my husband to be more affectionate and to spend meaningful time with me. But those actions didn’t come naturally to him, so I moved on. I am now with a man who doesn’t need prodding. Being with him has made me realize that love doesn’t have to be hard work. I feel cared for all the time and am so grateful for that.”
That’s all she wrote, but reading it felt like I was reading my own diary, written in, say, ten years from now, when it might be possible to speak casually about what went wrong, with a carefree tone stripped of all guilt or apology, as if it were possible to boil it all down to a single clause: “so I moved on.”
And yet, four years past my initial separation, I am clear enough to recognize this is some of my own truth staring at me from the pages of a magazine; I am clear enough to tear out the page and reproduce its truth here, facing the fact that for me, it did come down to a choice as “real simple” as this–to stay or to move on.
I’m not sure if or when I’ll be as free and clear as the author of this passage seems to be. Perhaps, for her, writing this helped her get there. I know I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure what it will take to get there. I do know that life is as rich and complicated now as it ever was when I was married.
I know, for example, that when Free says or does something that makes me catch my breath, I long for the possibility of sharing it with her father the way I used to be able to do. The truth is, sometimes I can’t sleep at night because I miss that so much.
At the same time, every time Newman opens up his arms to me, I know, with every single part of myself, that I have never known happiness like I know it to exist now, in this time, with this man.
And for today, that’s enough.