When I was young, my grandparents owned a farm in northern Michigan just outside of a resort town where I went to day camp with the richest kids I’d ever met. They had Birkenstocks and shaggy blonde hair. They looked like euro-Jesus before it was even hip yet. I was certainly never without, but I, like all of the kids in the town where I was from (thank you very much), had payless brand teva-esque sandals and was obviously using a tennis racquet for the first time. It was embarrassing for a minute. But even then, I understood that it wasn’t worth worrying about.
At the farm it was beautiful and boring in a way that I look back on longingly. Pure Michigan. My grandpa, “puh-puh” we called him, planted a field of Christmas trees one year when I was 7. I don’t know the specific type, but they were really Christmas trees for sure. Puh-puh said my brother and I should each choose one as our special tree. He said we could find out how much taller than us it was as time passed, and other fun things that I can’t remember. Obviously, this was an excellent idea. Because we were children, and this was before facebook, we jumped at the chance to compare ourselves to trees – to think about our midwestern selves so unabashedly.
And so I looked around the little forest of saplings for a suitable exemplar of my unique sensibility. I was 7, as I mentioned, so it was complicated. I don’t remember much about the looking, only that I settled on a tree somewhere in the thick of the bunch. I chose one from a row in the middle somewhere, and I counted trees from a certain starting place so that I would be able to find it again.
As I remember these events, the thing I’m thinking about is this: knowing that I was so young, why did none of the adults make a note of which tree I chose? Even in that moment I remember thinking to myself “okay, but who exactly will be in charge of this?” And somewhere in my mind the answer came back, maybe a tinny version of my adult voice said, “no one.” Ever since then, as I’m sure you can imagine, I have been just a little bit terrified. Because I knew way too early that nobody is in charge of this type of thing and people just expect that you’ll remember where your own Christmas tree is, even in the middle of the thickest part of other trees, even when you’re 7. I think before I went to bed that night I probably forgot. But I bet that tree is a lot taller than I am now, and I’ll never know for sure. And actually, my grandparents sold the farm and retired in Florida. It’s getting further and further away.
Now I am a mother. My daughter isn’t 7 yet, but I’m already passing this feeling along. My daughter is two and I haven’t made a baby book yet. I bought a groupon to a photo book website that has now expired unused. Does that count for something? I did not note the date of her first words, steps, or any of those things. It certainly wasn’t intentional. I was always thinking to myself “I’m supposed to be writing this down somewhere.”
My terror is moving like a blanket of snow. Softly. Flake after flake, down, down, down unto us, sealing us in, challenging us to dig out from under and what? Just be outside? The snow is everywhere – the terror of knowing that nobody is in charge of our real stuff. That we’re holding, just by a kind of accident, all of our self-obsessed trees, our firsts, our off-brand sandals, our ties to the world between us, in an ad hock collaboration.
I wonder when she’ll know. I wonder if I’ll notice the moment by seeing her face when she realizes that nobody is really in charge here.