Two thing happened at the beginning of August. The peaches on the tree in the back yard became ripe and Jennie, Clay’s daughter, arrived for her summer visit.
They were velvety soft and filled the air with their perfume. When they were ready to be picked, their flesh just yielded under a gentle thumb. Biting into one caused a rivulet of bright yellow juice to run down my chin, sweet and flavorful enough to put candy to shame. They were small, due to lackadaisical thinning efforts. But oh, they were lovely.
I think I enjoyed staring up at their colors almost as much as I did eating them.
Every morning I went out to the garden, climbed a ladder, and studied the peaches. I cupped my hand around their fuzzy weight and breathed in their scent. The ones that had softened since the day before I twisted free and set down carefully in my basket. Soon the kitchen was littered with piles of peaches, and every meal was accompanied by a bowl them, sliced and dripping with juice.
Meanwhile, inside the house, the addition of one 15 year old girl had tipped the balance of the household over from “full” to “abundant.” Relationships surged in every direction and I, whose only meaningful currency is feelings, was overwhelmed. People kept asking me, with a concerned furrow of the brow, “How is it going? How ARE you all?” – as though Jennie was an unpredictable outside force that we were meant to withstand.
“It’s going just FINE,” I replied, “and Jennie is very sweet and just such a neat person.” I said it firmly, hoping to get across the fact that Jennie is no outside force at all, but one of us. I have heard the things stepmothers say about their stepchildren, and I simply refuse.
And so we went on family outings and painted her room and swam and ice skated and I tried to fill our days with activities that Jennie would enjoy and the boys could fit into. Through it all I fought with myself, to tamp down the desire to make everything alright all the time for everyone. So many relationships. So many directions.
Sometimes everything would come together for a moment in a moment of achingly beautiful harmony. In those moments I was teary and grateful and in love with everything and everyone. Blended families are amazing.
And then there were times when all these people that I love so much could not find comfort in each other’s presence, and I wanted to run away. Under my left eye a twitch developed, like the flicker of a failing neon light.
One day, on our way home from the zoo, I turned around and snapped at Jennie and Max, then turned back and folded in on myself, miserable. For the rest of the ride everyone was silent, and when we arrived home each scattered to their own corner. The atmosphere was brittle and cold.
After a while I had to drive Jennie over to her cousin’s house, and we climbed in the van, tense and quiet. I pulled out of the driveway, and turned to her and sighed.
“Look, hon, I’m really sorry I snapped at you,” I began, and she looked at me. Her face softened and she said gently, “I’m sorry too.” She went on to talk about the complexities of being a stepsibling, with such maturity and insight that I wanted to cry. I was the one who married her dad and complicated her visits with him. She should be able to just come down and hang out with him, but forever after now there will be this other family twined around her time with him.
In the end, I think, we were all ok. It was a good visit, a real visit. In the evenings, as I stood at the kitchen sink, slicing into peach after peach after peach, as the juice ran off my wrists, I breathed in the scent and listened to the sounds of all these people I love, figuring out how to love each other. I stirred warm yellow slices of fruit to make the filling for peach cobbler. I simmered peaches to make jam (that failed, not once, but twice). Wobbly pyramids of dimpled peach pits were piled on sticky surfaces. The sink was flecked with juice and blush colored shreds of peach skin. My shoulders ached from standing there, cutting and mixing and stirring, and I was very aware that abundance is exhausting.
But it is still abundance. And it’s a miracle.