The Matron has a good friend (firmly on her feet these days) who went through a rough patch. This is the kind of friend who wouldn’t want her dramas writ large, so the briefest description of ‘rough patch’ must do: your 32 year old husband drops dead of a completely out-of-the-blue unknown heart defect, leaving you pregnant with an unexpected (but very loved already) fourth child (the oldest is seven), no college degree, no job, no life insurance AND that’s not the worst thing that happens.
So the Matron went through a period of feeling very protective of this friend and her children, one of whom, Christina, is Scarlett’s soul sister and forever best friend – then and now. Family legend is that the two girls bonded even before birth –two big pregnant bellies with babies bumping out to hold hands.
But after the husband’s death and her friend’s subsequent complete and total anxiety in the face of unrelenting other crises, if Christina and Scarlett were at a playground with the Matron, the Matron was all about KEEPING THAT CHILD ALIVE and intact.
Matron: “Honey, are you sure you want to climb up that tree? How about sitting on a blanket with a book and a cookie?” She wanted to add: How about playing with a first aid kit inside a bomb shelter? With a helmet and knee pads? Speaking of which. . .
Matron: “Hey girls! Everybody wears bike helmets. That’s so yesterday! How about body armor while biking? I just happen to have some.”
The Matron could not put this child in a car without first debating which seat would be safer in an accident. Guess whose child was strategically crushed several times in the Matronly mind – her own!
One memorable Saturday afternoon during this period—when the girls were about three—the Matron handed parenting duties to her husband. Flagged sentence, reader! John was in charge! To blame! Threat to Christina!
Those girls were very quiet for a long afternoon upstairs; indeed, the bedroom door remained tightly closed and by Scarlett’s later admission, they were also further barricaded in the closet. Instead finding alarm in this situation (when was the last time three-year olds productively entertained themselves for hours in silence?) John found time to finish the laundry, mop the kitchen floor, take out the garbage, fix Stryker’s bike and read the newspaper. Admirable endeavors indeed, but let’s note here that women are capable of doing all those things AND keeping an eye on the children. Just sayin’.
And after a long, quiet afternoon, the girls emerged from the bedroom: bald. Okay, not quite, but oh Lordie, sheared. Completely disfigured. Partners in crime, they found scissors and discovered just what blades could do! Big huge patches of scalp shining through on the left, large strand left on top right, half inch razor fuzz near the crown . . . . you get it: we are talking three-year olds working on those heads for nearly two hours. They looked like chemo patients with different treatment phases playing out on each part of the head. It was ugly. Frightening.
Scarlett already had notoriously bad hair. Christina? Thick perfect blonde hair that had rarely been cut—hair that defines a person, that stands out in the room, gleaming health and beauty.
Now, the Matron understood that Christina was still alive. No limb had been severed. But this was just under a year after her father’s death. Her mother’s daily existence was so structured by a huge series of new unanticipated problems and crises – along with the old stuff—that this friend had no psychological wiggle room. None. You can’t control a child nearly dying and a husband who does but you can make sure your three-year old’s hair looks good. Right? Not when she’s at the Matron’s house.
After the Matron peeled herself from the ceiling (where she took her husband as well) – at least the kitchen floor was clean – she nervously steeled herself for her friend’s arrival. Jeanne arrived and the Matron wheeled out the girls, who were still pretty pleased with their artwork if not with its reception.
The Matron waited for the breakdown, the anger, the weeping. Whatever. This was a woman on an edge and her beautiful child now looked like a dying monkey.
Jeanne: “Oh Mary. All the signs were there.”
Matron: “Hey, you’re right. They’ve been cutting Barbie hair for three weeks!”
Jeanne: “Then there was that fascination with scissors, the incident of the dog hair cut, the talk about boy hair and girl hair. The signs were all there.”
Small pause while both mothers considered.
Jeanne: “Well, let’s hope we do better with crack.”
And they both laughed until they cried, sort of a lot, and it was about a buncha things.