Dear Nichols Boys,
As daddy already knows, when I was 30, after years of boyfriends who came to me practically ablaze with red flags, and many turns in a bridesmaid’s dress, my younger brother announced his engagement. I was, of course, happy for him, but I was also humiliated, desperate, and ready to resign myself to a life alone. In the darkest parts of my mind I began to create myths: marriage was ridiculous and mostly ended in divorce, babies were over-sentimentalized and people who wanted to talk about their kids all the time were annoying, it was all a conspiracy to make single people feel isolated and highlight their failure in stark relief. I built a plaster model of myself which I inhabited like the tiny creature at the heart of a giant conch shell. Outside was work and beautiful clothes and flippancy elevated to an art form. Inside was the saddest, tenderest and most vulnerable heart, protected from harm but still dying from lack of nourishment. (I know this is all literary and metaphorical, guys, but that’s how I write. Hang on, because the parts about you are coming up soon).
Then, in the unlikely form of my Pitney Bowes postage meter salesman, came a man who could see past the brittle front I had constructed, and love me. You, Rob, were surpassingly kind, and smart, and funny, and indulgent and, well, handsome. You fit me. The differences in political perspective created a not unpleasant heat in the course of debate, and your lack of dramatic temperament made a space for me to carry on like Sarah Bernhardt safe in the knowledge that you would stick around. You lacked the arch, self-important air of the men I had loved before, and gradually it became okay for me to relax, to let the plaster crumble, and to admit that I quite liked some music and books that were neither artsy nor ironic, and that I liked babies, and puppies, and sentimental commercials, and old houses in the country.
I read The Hunt for Red October because you loved it, waiting eagerly in my office for the next time you came in so that I could dazzle you with my new-found understanding of cavitation devices. You brought me a pink Azalea on Valentine’s day and told me you loved me. You saved me from myself, and gave me back to myself, which is a terrible, dysfunctional description, and yet as true as true can be. There have been obstacles, there are still obstacles, ranging from the mundane to the fairly hideous, but I never doubt that you love me, or that you will try to understand and to make things work. I think we both know that we have something good, and that even at that times when it would be so easy to slip into one’s own head and shut out the ridiculous, exhausting, incomprehensible position of the other, we always find that elusive scraping of resolve that makes us engage again, and turn ourselves back to the work of marriage and parenthood. Thank you, more than I can say, for giving me the space to grow gentle and happy, and for the immense safety of your patience and goodness. Thank you, also, for going along with my beliefs that I am a great writer, that I am the next Jeopardy champ, that whoever I am complaining about is wrong and I am right, and for being so very good to my parents. Thank you for being, always, the bigger man not only literally, but figuratively.
Also, thank you for my other valentine – that’s you, Sam – the baby who we called “Smellen” when you were the size of a pea, because you were destined to be either Sam or Helen. You were, of course, Sam, and there has never been a purer joy in my life than loving you. (And yes, I know that you are mortified by this, but some day, when I am singing with the choir angelical, you will be glad that you read it). There is no room for anything cynical or detached in my feelings about you, who have grown from a wiggling pink lump into a tall thirteen year old, all cracking voice, buzz cut and Axe body spray. I never thought I would be anybody’s mother, believe it or not, but it turns out that I have never loved a job more, or felt better suited. (You may, of course, have a differing opinion about my job performance, in which case I ask you to keep it to yourself until I am done here).
I was so worried that you would be like me, all nerves and self-doubt, but you got the best of everybody, including daddy’s complete and total lack of neurosis. You are cheerful, confident, good with people, and even when a hormonal storm blows through and you pronounce us guilty of “ruining everything,” you are sunny and loving again within half an hour. I love it that you still call me “mumma,” that you shovelled us out last week when daddy was away and we had a blizzard, and that you are, like your father, incredibly kind and gentle with younger children, animals and your grandparents. You are a good sport, a good companion, and a gifted interpreter of all things involving cords and wires and motherboards and RAM. You are nice to girls, even when they like you “that way” and you don’t like them “that way.” I love you so much it makes my heart hurt, and I promise that I will never say that out loud, particularly in front of other people. It is, nevertheless, true.
In celebration of the love-fest that is Valentine’s Day, I am going to make you both a blistering hot Thai curry, and lead up to it with immoderate quantities of chocolate and appropriate expressions of my feelings. (I have to keep this PG, Mr. Nichols). I love you, I love you, I love you both, and even on the most awful days, the mere fact that you are both on this earth and in my house is a miracle to me. You bring me joy.