By Barbara Ehrenreich, from Living with a Wild God, out next month from Twelve. Ehrenreich, a longtime contributor to Harper’s Magazine, is the author of many books, including, most recently, Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America.
I remember perfectly well the first time it happened. My mother had determined that we should do something “as a family” on Sunday afternoons, a domestic-management strategy she had gleaned from the women’s magazines. On this particular Sunday, our destination was a horse show in the town of Hamilton, Massachusetts. I could not tell you what was supposed to happen there to warrant the word “show,” since neither the animals nor the humans in attendance offered the slightest promise of entertainment. No one in the family had any interest in horses, either as aesthetic objects or as a means of transportation. The sole attraction for my father was the chance to sneer at the local gentry, who intruded on our lives, in classic feudal fashion, as landlords. There are some photos of the occasion still in my sister’s possession, showing her, about four years old at the time, toddling through the grass, and my mother sitting at a picnic table, looking off glumly to the side. I had wandered off and was leaning on a fence, staring at the woods in the pale late-summer sunlight, feeling nothing but impatience.