Lost by Deb Gail

My two teen-aged daughters and I were training for a half marathon when the family took a trip to Italy in June. It was hot, every day hovering around a humid 90. And in Siena, the narrow cobblestone streets were filled with the omnipresent smell of freshly cured meat and speeding Vespa drivers talking on cell phones and listening to iPods. Conditions so far from ideal for running that I’m convinced that the only reason we ran our miles (or most of them) was because of Throw Like a Girl, a book of short stories by Jean Thompson that the three of us read simultaneously. Not literally simultaneously. I think it was more that we kept stealing the book from one another but managed to read enough of the same stories to discuss them while we ran.

Third day in Siena: I woke the girls at 7 (even though they like to sleep until 10) because Rick, my husband, kept saying we would miss Fill-In-The-Blank monument, a recurrent concern of his that had already caused more than one fight between us in Italy. Let me just say, we are not the most compatible travelers. He’s a map and plan kind of guy, convinced if we don’t get THERE right now we never will. While I’m more of a wanderer, wanting to feel and absorb my way through a foreign place. Not that one is better than the other. And we both often have the same destination in mind, it’s the journey that differs. But that morning I woke the girls (at his urging) and we gobbled down croissants and blood orange juice and cups of cappuccino (not the best food to run on but we were in Tuscany where they haven’t heard of whole grain bread and peanut butter or runners for that matter) and we headed out the thick-planked doors of Pensione Palazzo Raviza and into the walled-in medieval maze of Siena.

The first ten minutes we were just moving and breathing, finding the commonality of our rhythm and pace. And then the heat and the cobblestones and the undigested croissants and the Vespas conspired to defeat us before we completed our mileage. And just when I thought one of us was going to suggest we quit, Abby, my middle daughter, said, “I finished that story “Lost,” last night. It was well-written but depressing.”

“Lost” was the story in Throw Like a Girl that Ali, my oldest, and I were both raving about the day before. A story with so many brilliant lines that as soon as I finished it, I reread it immediately. But Abby was right, it was depressing. This is the tricky thing about this stage of motherhood. My daughters are old enough and smart enough to read and discuss books and movies and life and while I’ve always advocated open and honest communication, the questions are getting tougher.

“I mean that relationship with that guy who had a girlfriend and left her was her best memory? How could that be?” Abby said.

I think that’s the point,” I said. “That may have been the apex of her life.”

“And it’s sad because she thought it was going to get better and it didn’t and now the time is gone,” Ali said. “They’re all kind of like that.” She’d finished the book by then. “Middle-aged women filled with regret. A lot of books are about that. Which makes me wonder about middle-aged women…”

“I don’t think I want to be middle-aged,” Abby said.

“Or married,” Ali said.

“No offense but it seems boring,” Abby said.

“I would live with someone,” Ali said. “But marriage? I mean do you know anyone who’s been married a long time who’s really… happy?”

“Yeah,” Abby said. “Are you happy?”

We’d been running long enough by that point that I realized it was about time to turn around. But that wasn’t so easy in Siena where the streets zig-zagged and meandered and twisted back on to themselves and lead us to what looked like another blind alley (just like the day before) and I wasn’t sure which way to go or how to answer the question. Am I happy? I’m happy I’m running with my daughters. That my son made the All Star Little League team. That we’re all healthy. That my book is going to be published. That I’ve been married and faithful for two decades, and the marriage… ebbs and flows, and with perhaps just a few more intensive years of marital therapy we’ll learn to dovetail our differences. But is that happy? Is happy something you can hold on to? I think I used to think happy was a destination. But now?

“We’re lost again,” Abby said. “Aren’t we?”

I nodded and we turned around and we all shrugged and laughed at ourselves and headed in the direction we thought we should go and I knew it was going to take some concerted effort to find our way back. But I also knew that would trick us into completing our mileage. And the whole sweaty way back, I thought, maybe it isn’t so bad to be lost, maybe we’re all a little lost some of the time and maybe that’s okay because it keeps us yearning and questing. And I am happy, thrilled actually, that my daughters aren’t afraid to ask me tough questions. Now if I could only find the answers.

16 Replies to “Lost by Deb Gail”

  1. Oh Gail, this was marvelous! Such a thoughtful, layered post…great books can indeed inspire the tough conversations & questions–and in this case, more great writing!

    And wouldn’t life be dull if we entered it with a map? 🙂

  2. Wow, Gail! At this point my 18-month-old loves to march over to me with a book and say “read!” but we’re a long way from the discussion phase. This is a wonderful post and has given me so much to think about.

  3. Great post, Gail. Very thought-provoking…and it is the journey that matters, not the end point. And how you get there? That’s part of the challenge I guess…

  4. Danielle, if I close my eyes I can still see and feel all three of my children at 18 months. What a great age. Savor it! And thanks for the comment. I’m actually really LOVING this age (of my daughters) just still figuring out how to navigate it.

    And thanks Jenny, for saying that. I LOVED your post on marriage at magical musings. Although yours had more answers than mine…

  5. Gorgeous post, Gail. I especially liked:

    “Middle-aged women filled with regret. A lot of books are about that. Which makes me wonder about middle-aged women…”

    😀 Well, I think there are a lot of middle-aged women filled with regret out there. But of course that comes from the very fact that if you’ve reached that age, there’s enough experience under your belt to KNOW what to regret.

    And, of course, the real question is, what do they (we?!) do about it? Great questions, great way to create the opportunity to talk about these things with your daughters, Gail. Would you be my mommy?

  6. By any chance did you turn the question around, Gail, and ask your daughters if they’re happy? Sounds as though, “Why not?” Great parents, thought-provoking reading, honest discussions PLUS a vacation in Italy.

  7. What a lovely post, Gail. It seems to me that it’s ok if you don’t have all the answers for your kids, as long as you’re still open to having the conversation and honest about the limits of your knowledge, your confidence, your certainty, your experience… But then again, easy for me to say, when my boys are young enough to just want the facts, ma’am, only the facts.

    And I’m totally impressed that you went running in Siena; it’s hard even to walk those streets! Someday I want to go back for the horse race…

  8. We were there a few days before the race. I’ve heard it can be brutal. They warn people they might get trampled to death. Talk about archaic… thanks for your wise words. Always appreciated!

    You know Lesley, I think and running and writing have a lot in common. One foot or one word after the next…

  9. Great post, Gail! And I am totally jealous of the jogging in Siena thing! As far as marriage goes, it is sort of like your jogging experience, isn’t it? You just get lost along the way and trying to find your way back becomes the journey. My teenage daughter has never actually asked me if I was happy, gratefully..lol. I think she is just learning by example because she said to me the other day. “I think it’s important to immerse yourself in something you love–like when you write.” That made me the happiest mom in the world because I felt like I had taught her something important without even trying.

  10. Thanks for this, Gail.

    I appreciate this: “But is that happy? Is happy something you can hold on to? I think I used to think happy was a destination. But now?”

    I ask myself this often. Thanks for the honesty.

  11. You nailed it–again! Happiness is transitory. But you’ve found the inside edge: it’s all about joy. Lost and sweating, there’s still room to enjoy and find joy.
    You already know it, but I’ve got to say it again I LOVE YOUR WRITING.
    See you in Madison soon.

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