The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson


It had taken several weeks for Lady Marbely to stop commenting on how unusual it was for a lady to be so knowledgable about port and how sad it was that she had had no mother to counteract her father’s more unusual ideas about what was suitable.

A couple of days ago, M needed a voice recorder for a meeting and asked to borrow mine. I haven’t used mine in a few years, since getting, you know, a real job that doesn’t require I record several phone conversations a month. He dug it out from the deep wooden trench we generously call “the side table” and refreshed the batteries and ta-da! He was ready for his meeting.

Except, there were about 50 recordings on it and I couldn’t tell him what they were. So I downloaded all of them onto my computer and listened to most of them, deleted a bunch, and used the rest as a vehicle back to a time when I was perhaps not happier but certainly drove fewer miles in a day. They were recordings of my kids. This was before Tallis’s voice became deeper than his dad’s, before Luca got a cool haircut, before Barno learned the concept of “enough.” These voices came from when my days were a balance of being full-on mom and full-on freelance writer, when countless phone interviews were navigated while a baby slept on my chest, when school pickup was still a kind of welcome reunion on all our parts, when I worried about getting the Tylenol dosage right instead of the fact that their peers were getting caught with marijuana.

And I’m not glossing rosy over those years. They were hard years. I do better when I have an office to go to every day and meaningful work to focus on. I do less better when most of my meaningful work is the invisible kind, the kind that serves evidence of your measure by the stuff your kids don’t do–they don’t display their private parts/obstinate behavior/rudeness in public, they don’t eat candy for breakfast, they don’t assume we’ll buy them the latest iPod/LeapPad/BrainMelter 2000. This is all good work, but in my case, I wanted something different.

And now I have it, and it’s great, but also it was great to listen to all of us being weird within the confines of our home, and within the confines of a voice recorder. This was accidental scrapbooking (the only kind I seem to be capable of) at its best.

I don’t want to relive those years. Once in a great while I’ll pick up one of my journals from that time and I won’t be able to read very much because a) it’s a tad boring and b) I come across as whiny far too often to blame entirely on hormones. I’m a better mom to older kids. I’m happier now. But it’s sweet, isn’t it, to be reminded, to be offered a taste lasting 1:04 minutes, that goes like this:

6 thoughts on “The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

  1. Nice post. It’s so lovely to suddenly find a hidden treasure like a photo album or, as in your case, a recording from years gone by. We’re instantly transported to those times and situations.
    Motherhood is obviously hard work. Loved the post. Happy blogging. God bless. 🙂

  2. I am just delighted by this recording…so L has always had more interesting things on his mind…sound effects … Marvelous!

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