The other night we watched our tape of Saturday night’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” the 4th of July show recorded at Tanglewood. One of the high points of the proceedings had to be their rendition of The Prodigal Daughter, who asked her mother to wire a million shekels to her bank in Sodom and Gomorrah, where she had taken a sublet. After inventing a cocktail called the Philistini, accepting an internship as a hog-swiller and avoiding the persistent ministrations of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Daughter returns home, where her mother kills the fatted calf to the great dismay of older brother, Wally, the good son who has never given his mother any trouble at all.
My children have heard the more traditional version of this story many times. When we acted it out in church a couple of years ago, Pure Luck played the father, #1 Son was the disgruntled older brother, and #2 Son ran off down the center aisle and tried to bum cigarettes from the congregation. In synch with our congregation’s life, the Father called for a celebratory Roast Beef Supper on his son’s return!
It was quite a moving moment for me when Pure Luck wrapped his arms around #2 Son and gave him a big hug. It was the first time they had embraced, stepfather and stepson. It opened the door. When #2 Son left for summer camp a few months later, he initiated the good-bye hug, and now they hug whenever there is a major leavetaking or arrival home. Whatever feelings of awkwardness they might have had about what was then still a fairly new relationship–Pure Luck and I will celebrate our 4th anniversary in September–dissipated in the telling of an old, old story.
On this watching, The Princess reacted to Garrison Keillor’s conclusion to the story. Grace, he said. It’s in the Bible. Those who show up late get paid the same. She seemed to feel this was outrageous! She put herself in the place of the good son and felt his pain.
“It’s like if you’re good, and someone else isn’t, they still get a party, and you’re supposed to just get over it!”
Just get over it. It sounds unfair, doesn’t it? But that’s the message of the story, or one of them. I let both The Princess and #2 Son stew over this briefly, and then I said, “Are we always the good daughter or son? Isn’t it comforting to know that we’re still loved, even though sometimes we’re the one who wandered off?”
It’s hard for them to understand because their slips and wanderings have been relatively undramatic.
Still, they have their complaints against one another, and The Princess informed me yesterday that her brothers don’t treat her as an equal. I pointed out that being an equal means participating in their give and take of teasing and not expecting to be special due to being younger.
Earlier in the day, #1 Son had recalled 4th of July 2002, when it was so hot that we couldn’t bear to fire up the grill, instead went out for Mexican, and later hid out on the 3rd floor in our only air-conditioned room instead of going to the fireworks. That year, The Little Princess kept saying, “It’s the worst 4th of July ever!!” She had a very specific definition of how each holiday or birthday could be best celebrated, and she was inflexible to an extreme degree. When some little thing went wrong in our meal preparation yesterday, her brother said to her in his dryest tone, “It’s the worst 4th of July ever!”
When she agitated for equality, I used his teasing as an example. He’s not really hurting you; he’s playing. How can you play along? That’s how you claim your equality, not by moping in a corner. You can’t have it both ways.
I remember a friend telling me that her insensitive husband once responded to her sadness by saying roughly, “Get over it!” It was so awful it was almost hilarious. It changed my opinion of him. There is a nicer way to put it, always.
But, grace. There it is. The ones who show up late to work get paid the same. The third child is as much loved as the first and the second.
I’m one who enjoys a good wallow, I really am. I suffer over injustices and get caught up remembering old wrongs. But something happened to me not long ago. I turned 45 and I did the math and I realized my life was most likely half done. And I realized I didn’t want to dwell in those places in the time that is left to me. I realized I needed to get over it and them and these and those.
A nicer way to say it might be: “Accept the reality and keep moving.”
Last night we decided to play some more games after dinner. We wanted to include The Princess, and she wanted to play, but she worried that she would not do as well as everyone else.
“Well,” I said, “you have a choice. You can come and play and learn more and get better, or you can decide you would rather not and do something else. But it’s by trying to play that you will learn how to play better.”
Now I would have gotten into a terrible snit if someone rationally said this to me years ago, or maybe even last week. But I want a different life for my daughter, for all my children, a life in which they don’t spend their time examining perceived slights and withering at injustice and hiding from small losses. I want them to get in there and play, to learn to distinguish what really matters from what is merely amusing and to find joy in the latter when the former is too much to bear.
That’s grace, too.
We played a rousing round of Yahtzee and six of Scattergories, sustained by strawberry shortcake, brownies and vanilla ice cream, in a climate of such general hilarity that we were all exhausted by bedtime and never even thought of going to the fireworks. It was the best 4th of July ever.