In her National Book Award winning novel, Charming Billy, Alice McDermott tells a poignant tale of an Irish family and how a well-intentioned lie goes awry--a lie told to Charming Billy by his best friend. The book has nothing to do with the role of parents and their grown children, but that doesn't mean McDermott doesn't have insights on that relationship.
In this scene, the young married daughter, who has flown from the west coast to New York for Charming Billy's funeral, is staying with her dad, Billy's best friend, in the family home. It is early morning on an early spring day--the day after the funeral--and they are heading outdoors to sit on chairs on the front lawn and have a morning cup of tea together:
"She sipped from the cup. The breeze that had woken him had grown weaker in the sun, but something of the cold dawn still lingered. One did not dare say to a grown daughter, a married woman with children of her own, Are you warm enough? Do you need a sweater? Wouldn't you rather wear shoes?
He said, "You'll have to give the in-laws a call while you're here."
A kernal of self-control wisdom from Alice.
Later in the novel, Billy's sister rants about the life and role of women in a big and loving--but tradition-bound--Irish family. Addressing Billy's best friend's daughter--the one who has flown in from the west coast to spend time with her dad and the family--the older woman adds this:
"I'm sure [your dad is] glad you came in. And tomorrow you'll go out to the Island with him? Good. Your husband will manage fine, don't worry about that. All young mothers think their kids can't survive without them, don't they? Didn't you? Soon enough you'll see. Next thing you know, they're all grown up and gone from home--isn't it the truth. Next thing you know, your house is empty again. Look at us...[names her four siblings] how many kids altogether? Fifteen, good Lord, sixteen, sixteen kids altogether and not one of them left at home, right? Thank God for that, but see what I'm saying, see how fast it goes?"
It didn't seem to go fast when our children were young and we were in the parenting maelstrom. But looking back from the now-empty nest, how fugit the tempus.