“It’s a serious thing // just to be alive // on this fresh morning // in this broken world.”
– Mary Oliver, Red Bird
From where I sit, the day is just beginning. Perched on the edge of my bed, I slip my bare feet into my sheepskin slippers, sinking my toes into the comforting fuzz. Mornings in Northern California start chilly, even in summer. I blink away the veil of sleep over my eyes and reach for my glasses. The dim room comes into focus. I stretch my arms over my head, roll my neck, catalog the snaps and crackles.
From where I sit, the space created when I unplugged from the usual beat of motherhood is about to fill. Today my two oldest girls come home from camp. The month they were away, the house was quiet and clean. There was less laundry, fewer dirty dishes, no sibling spats. Left with one child to mother, I scaled the symphony of our lives down to a neat little duet. In the afternoons, we played Go Fish and Zingo or watched Paw Patrol. Meal times were simple with just the two and sometimes three of us when my husband was home. My youngest daughter had us all to herself. We were rapt. It’s easy to dote on just one child.
From where I sit, I wonder if I’m ready for reentry. I miss the energy of the five of us, the way we draw together like magnets, hunkering down on the couch for a movie, our limbs layered. But there are plenty of days when we cannot each comfortably carve ourselves out from the whole of us. Then there is chaos and scuttling, tension and sniping. Our magnets reverse themselves, repelling each other, driving us into our own hidey-holes. It’s quiet there, but isolating too.
From where I sit, the lightest drizzle spackles the windshield. In the rearview mirror, I see my almost five-year-old staring out the window. She is quiet, contemplative – not her usual state. The recently repaved road unwinds before me like a runaway streamer. I follow along, keeping the newly painted yellow line well to my left, coming to a full stop at the bright red sign. I am intent on paying attention in these last hours before we are all together again.
We are making our way to the bus stop for the morning ride to day camp. At the bus, my girl usually hops on by herself but this morning she wants me to come with her to find a seat. So I come. Maybe she too senses the shift that is about to happen. She settles herself onto a bench, squeezes my hand and blows me a kiss goodbye. No drama, just contact. Back on the sidewalk, I wave valiantly at the tinted windows as the bus pulls away, wondering if my girl can see me from where she sits.
From where I sit, my reflection is a distant outline of bare arms and patterned leggings, one of 18. The lighting is low, the dance club music loud. Sweat drips down my neck, tickles my shoulder blades. My butt balances on the narrow, black bike seat, as I madly pump my legs up back and around. I turn up the resistance, buckle down on my pace, feel my inner thighs quiver as the air thickens with body heat. My mind wanders: am I doing enough? The list is long and includes both personal directives like “Write More” and “Wear Sunscreen” and beliefs I have yet to act on like “End Gun Violence” and “Black Lives Matter.” The world shatters as it always has and I am still here, pedaling and sweating, wondering what’s for dinner and if I can make a difference.
From where I sit, the late afternoon sun kisses the back of my neck. I squint through my sunglasses and watch my youngest swing all the way across the high monkey bars, a skill she’s just recently mastered and is so proud of. She shows me her latest trick: hanging upside down, the flinty green metal bar under her knees, her head towards the ground. I clap my hands, raise my eyes in amazement, say “Awesome!” all the while desperately willing her upright, feet back on earth. I am thrilled and fearful, wowed and anxious. Motherhood.
From where I sit, I hear the hard and fast feet of my middle daughter followed by the lighter pitter-patter of the youngest. I arrive at the open front door as the oldest one tumbles out of the car and into her sisters, squealing. The teen and the tween fling their arms around each other, the little one prances around them, wanting in. Her oldest sister scoops her up as I demand a picture. They ignore me. I am left with the simple moment I’m in, then the next and the next. I memorize their faces, their glossy hair glinting in the fading light, their singsong voices, their total joy. I cannot take my eyes off them.
From where I sit, I hear the sporadic clank of the dryer as it spins and tosses the first load of camp laundry. Dirt and dust coat their clothes, crunchy leaves and gravel traveled home alongside scrunched up singleton socks and damp towels, crumpled letters from home, tubes of sunscreen, an almost empty bottle of shampoo. Their shirts smell like sweat and smoke, dry heat and contraband candy. I linger among the piles, wondering at the stories in their pockets, the reason for a stain or tear. They are the same girls I sent off a month ago and yet they are perceptibly different, their lives changed in ways I did not witness. How is it that they are both so deeply known and yet becoming unknown to me?
From where I sit, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” floats up from my teenager’s iPhone. “Mom, did you used to listen to this song?” she asks as she comes up the stairs in search of clean underwear. “Still do,” I say. A few rooms away, the middle one strums her guitar, trying out new chords she learned at camp. So much happened in the world while they were gone – bloody, senseless acts of fear and hatred – and yet, here we are, alive, loved. Grief and gratitude exist side by side. It’s not always easy to give each its due.
From where I sit, the pull towards my people is strong. The sky slips into darkness as I reclaim my fuzzy slippers for the night. Downstairs the girls giggle and catch up, their voices soaring and dipping, rippling through the house. My husband finishes washing the pots. I follow my feet down the stairs as the girls elbow their way out of the kitchen, making contact. All five of us head to the couch, happy to tumble into each other once again.
This post was inspired by the Finish the Sentence Friday prompt “I feel the ripple effects of…” and is hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee.