Turn

November 01,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

Sometimes, driving into work, I might go past an accident on the road. Some well-dressed person, feeling shaky still, is standing by her car, cell phone in hand. A bumper lies on the ground, or if the accident was minor, there's a small dent--still worthy of discussion, or some broken glass. I drive on and think about how quickly our worlds can be shattered--irrevocably sometimes, but other times just rocked enough to make us slow down, and stop and think.

Thank goodness I don't have an accident tale to tell. But my day Friday took one of those unexpected detours that shake you up a little: my detour involved a broken-down car in a busy lane, traffic zooming up the hill and, at what seemed like the last possible second, past me, honking impatiently (as if I had chosen to stop my car at that inconvenient and dangerous spot). I succumbed to being what I hate being--the damsel-in-distress--and happily gave in to all the help that came my way--the police, Scott, and two good samaritans who pulled off to help push the car to safety until the towtruck could show up. Somehow the kids were picked up at school, and we all ended up at the Honda dealership, where we abandoned our poor second car to the mechanics, and the kids munched down bags of freshly popped popcorn until it was finely time to head home.

"I can't believe it will cost that much to fix," Scott said glumly. I nodded. Big car repair bills have a way of sucking the life right out of you, taking all the carefree joy right out of a Friday evening. Back home we lit our first fire of the season. T. was thrilled to see the dancing flames, and the animals gathered in the family room with us, happy for the unexpected warmth. We threw a couple of pinecones in and they crackled and instantly set the fresh holly log on fire. It hadn't been an easy week, and there was something extra comforting about gathering together at the end of it, something extra gratifying about the lit windows of our house, and extra soothing about digging out the flannel sheets again for our beds. There was a sense of thank goodness we made it to our evening, as if we'd just braved some long and dangerous journey and were unexpectedly surprised to find ourselves safely at the end of it.

A friend of mine has had a rough fall, and she told me she can't wait for the season to be done with, for that giant clock out there to inch its way forward into spring. I think fall can be a cruel season--a dying-off season. But the compensation for stripped-bare trees and cold nights is worth it: warm fires inside, and a gathering inwards. We begin a parade of holidays, and decorate our houses inside and outside with lights. Next weekend we'll put away the ghosts and bats and the giant fuzzy spider. I'll dig out the Thanksgiving placemats, and T.'s homemade Be Thankful wreaths and start planning for our Thanksgiving feast. I always have a sense of treading carefully during the fall and winter months. That giant clock out there will inch forward another notch, marking time.