Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

September 23, 2014

When Anything Can Happen

As most of you know, my daughter has an intellectual disability.  Much of my heart opening path has stemmed from that, and parenting in general.  If I didn’t have children, I would think my shit didn’t stink.  But in the most loving of ways (or not) my kids rub my nose in the shit of my unresolved issues about once an hour.


Friday morning I sat in a support group for mothers with kids with special needs.  I am big on groups; they have always worked for me.  Without them, I feel hopeless and alone.  With them, I am not alone and even if I feel hopeless, I know I can borrow your hope for a week or two.  (Thank you for that, by the way.)


On Friday a woman who is new to me spoke of another friend, also a mother of a child with special needs.  “I wish my friend could come,” she said, to the already full group.  “She said to me this morning, ‘I can’t believe this is my life.  A child with significant disabilities, and two other kids besides.’”  The woman went on:  “My friend is a highly educated chemical engineer who hasn’t worked for seven years because of her children’s needs.  She used to travel; she had plans.  And now her life is so limited.  I know how she feels.  I always thought I’d get back to Europe, travel more, and maybe live with my family in another country.  I can’t see that happening any time soon.”


She paused.


(Although I don’t know her well, I like this woman immensely. She has an immediate, blindingly honest way about her.)


“Of course I love my kids, they are the best thing that happened to me,” she finished, and we nodded.  Of course.  “But wow.  Before you know it, life gets so… real.”


That night, Brad and I went to a birthday party for a friend of ours turning 35.  In a hip part of town on a hip little street, we walked into a room of twinkly lights and textiles from many trips taken by my friend and his vivacious girlfriend.  Because I am a middle-aged homeowner, I looked at this beautiful home and asked, “Did you have to do a lot to this place?  Knock down walls?  Re-do bathrooms?”  Donna (vivacious girlfriend) smiled and said, no they rent.  She throws up her artsy stuff on rental walls and transforms cinderblock into Morocco.  “I make all our rentals look good,” she said. “The owners like it so much they’ve sold three of our past rentals with my stuff in it, because it shows so well.”


I was back in the demo of transitory living.  I remember it well.  I lived in probably 45 different rooms between the ages of 20 and 31.  I’d put a lamp down, cover it with as scarf  (Blanch Dubois-style), throw up my Bhutanese blanket and voila — I was home.  I looked around this crowd of 20 and 30 somethings – artists, activists, those in-between careers and those who had never had one –and I thought of my new friend from that morning’s meeting.


It seemed to me that most of these partyers hadn’t made choices that had anchored them.  They were Jell-O that had not yet set.  They lived breathlessly in that moment where Anything Can Happen.


And everything will happen. Children will happen and weddings will happen and careers will change and money will be made and lost. An illness will arise.  A child will have a special need.  Someone will go to rehab. A marriage will run its course.  A financial investment will boom!  Then bust!  Then boom again!  Plans will be made, and with shocking predictability, Life Itself will upset those plans.


I have solid things in my life today, none of which I could’ve predicted. I have a marriage; I have two wildly different children to whom I am committed.  I have a circle of friends and a mortgage and I pay taxes.  I have aging parents who cared for me when I was young, and now I am committed to paying back that service.


But despite this supposed solidity, I too live in the moment where Anything Can Happen.  My father goes in for a heart procedure on Thursday.  While writing this I am knocking wood, my heart, my head that all will go well (I trust it will.)  But as he is 86 and my mom is 88, I’d be naïve to think our time together is not short.  Anything Can Happen with my blossoming children, who surprise me at every turn and challenge my preconceptions every day.  Anything Can Happen with my marriage, where another door of intimacy is always waiting to be opened (if we can get away from the kids for five friggin’ minutes!!!)


I didn’t wish to be back at the age of my partying friends.  I didn’t know how to love then.  I had never felt the exquisite pierce of staying committed to something.   I’d blow out of things at the drop of a hat – a job, a romance, a city – when they no longer served me.  Staying committed has been a crash course in love – for myself and others.  Back then, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.


And when the buoyant, slightly unhinged girl in the skinny jeans went trolling for some Adderall to snort, my husband and I took the cue, packed up, and drove back home.  The fat lady had sung.


It’s nice to be middle-aged.  You get more sleep.