33 & the summer

Another year older another year wider.
I mean that somewhere along the way I have been cracked open and no matter what I do the gap expands. 33 and a canyon and a river runs through.

We arrive with a sigh at the end of the summer. The calendar says not quite yet, but Papa goes back to school and the sun does not quite hit the raised beds as it once did, already it begins to hide south behind our house. The days are still warm but several tired leaves can no longer hang on waiting for an autumn wind and drift into our yard.

At the end of summer Elanor laughs and sings. I blow the ashes off her head and look up to see the light on in the window, hear the bedtime antics loud and merry, just one more verse of “Down By the Bay.”
At the end of summer Jack plays elaborate pretend baseball. We finally get him a little ball and bat set, and then we play with it every day, multiple times a day.
The neighbor girl comes over to play with him, showering him with praise when he hits the ball. Then she wants to play pretend, to look at the moonlight and turn into a monster and chase each other. Jack obliges, not entirely sure what his role is but loving the chasing part.

Some things I want to remember about late summer Jack Flint:
His imagination deepens. People and circumstances are given meaning when retold as animal stories. For instance: he repeatedly threw Lamby as an excuse to get out of bed, so I took Lamby away for a few moments. Later he told a story about how a lion came and roared, and took his Lamby away.
Or, to explain why his leg hurt, a story about a dinosaur coming to bite him.
Little dinosaurs commonly make an appearance, wanting to come up and lay on the couch between our snuggled heads, wanting to sit at the table during dinner.
“They are nice,” he says reassuringly.
After reading Cowardly Clyde the dinosaurs were replaced by an ogre for a short time, part fascination and part fright.
He requested to come inside after hearing some prolonged sirens, saying “Those horizons are scaring me.”
Aside from the sirens, he wants always to be outdoors, asking first thing in the morning until the end of day. “Go outside? We go outside now?”

Summer has seen the loveliest evenings spent with dinner and rock throwing at the beach a few times a week. The boys could do it for hours. Jack notices if Jeff and I are just lounging and will come and hand us rocks, wanting everyone to be in on his fun, his compulsion. Even now the water is still fine, and one or all of us will end up taking a quick dip.

Late summer and we are just a bunch of leaves still clinging on.

It is nothing remarkable. She is waking to the world under the very common leaves of the Norway Maple. For a moment I wish for something else to offer, something wild or more noteworthy, not a simple yard in a simple neighborhood. But then – she sings at something above, and the leaves rustle in response. She is breathing in the heady linden tree from the neighbor’s yard.
Can’t you see it? With Elanor, this common space becomes a cathedral, the everyday transformed into a holy place somehow. The trees are ceilings and incense and whispers of prayers ascending.

I place her under the open window while I cook so she can hear the spring birds, the robin and the sparrow and the cardinal flitting through our small backyard. Nothing extraordinary, yet the kitchen is briefly made new by her attention, her wide eyes and open mouth at their song.

I wanted to dazzle them. But they are dazzled by their mother twirling in the living room, laughing. They are delighted in their father throwing a large rock into the water and making a terrific splash.

Night has always pushed up day

Before you came – days of rain. Your older brother jumps a little at the thunder, says “I like storms!”

I am stormy too, and you know it. You move and thrash when I am fearful or sad. I wish you didn’t know but I can’t seem to quite hold it all together. Your father and I have a disagreement, and another one, and you know. We love each other but don’t always love the same way, which feels horrifically cliche. I hate to fall into a pattern of thought or speech that directly follows what I’ve been told will happen, always happens. As a mother, as a lover, I lack originality.

The rain stops falling and I am horrifically cliche and think of the song After the Storm. I think this is when you’ll come, with flowers in your hair. There is a new moon tomorrow, it is a moon of rebirth they say. It is springtime and the world is beginning to open and you are almost here.

I love you my darlings, I love you. I’m sorry for my fear. I won’t rot, I won’t rot.

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An unruly roadside bouquet picked hurried after supper, sandhill cranes swooping and calling nearby. 

At the end of a heartbreaking week, we are still holding our breath, accepting slowly that things will never look the same but wondering if we will, as the optimistic cry, “come back stronger.”

Coming back does not have a timestamp, and perhaps it is true but not true for us. Perhaps it is only true for our children or our children’s children. It is good enough that we are preparing a way for them, but I too want to reap in song and dance what we sow.

The destruction has been horrific, almost unreal. After the initial burning and looting, I went downtown to volunteer for a couple of hours and saw dozens of people just walking around taking photos, videos, pointing with blank faces from cars with the windows rolled up like a dazed tourist. I did not want our city on display in its grief. News trucks came in and cameramen filmed a woman sweeping, filmed the mayor standing outside in a park surrounded by lights, hands in his pockets, filmed a man washing the sidewalk. The embers smoked for days. Men in suits sat in chairs behind their cars, laptops propped up in the open hatchback, editing their photographs and audio. Men and women in the streets called for prayer, revival, defunding, death.

But most staggering has been the sheer number of people who literally do not grow weary of doing good. They are tireless, cheerful, creative. Restoration and rebuilding are playful to them. All of the somber boarded up windows become alive, works of art, mothers taking their children to paint hearts and handprints all along the streets, artists painting the lake, the lighthouse. There is too much food, too many people to hand it out. “Does anyone know how to use a saw? I need to cut this board to fit my window.” There are several volunteers. I thought from the headlines and the photographs that our city was full of only anger and division but here – they are reaping joy and hope and there is enough to go around for anyone who comes with their hands extended.

conceal

In the thick of summer: Jack asks for more of everything: more airplanes, more food, more sky, more music, more tickling. He knows it — there is abundance. He is not afraid to ask for it.

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In summer there is always more to be had, more to be done. Summer is all ablaze, a parade, summer keeps no secrets. Jack, too, is always on display. Every emotion unchecked, bountiful, growing growing growing. I hear him now, well past his bedtime, singing in his crib, awake with the hum of the evening. There is so much I love about summertime Jack, when we went from saying “he’s just over one and a half” to “he’s not quite two,” and it felt like a great leap.

Summer keeps no secrets, but I do. I keep a growing secret of my own, as tiny as a lavender bud. Cell by finger by toe by heartbeat by heartbeat I am quietly cultivating.

It is a strange time, a strange world to try to plant and grow and protect and unleash a body, a soul. In darker evenings when the summer sun is set I wonder, will you forgive us if we bring you here and the whole world is undone? But often it feels so good, so necessary to have this richness. To grow roots and wings, we are doing a marvelous thing in love and hope.

Hollow

I grow increasingly sentimental in my old age. On a run (I don’t like to run, but I like to move my body and I like to be outside) I realized I have an absurd amount of photos of the same path, the same sidewalks, the same stretch of beach. And now I think of desperate parting gestures – hugging trees and skinny dipping and leaving notes for the people with the lovely garden I appreciate on every walk.

It has been a long while since we’ve had to say goodbye, and never to a place we’ve known for so long. I’ve grown accustomed to the light, the way the shadows thin in winter with the leaves falling off the tree, the way Jack chased the branch shadows in the morning light in the kitchen, or the west light coming in at end of day nursing sessions. I’ve grown familiar to the circles of light through the blinds, how they softly illuminate Jeff’s shoulder and neck in the early, bleary morning. I know the way the moon peeks through an open corner of the blind at 2 a.m. as bright as daylight, rousing me.
I know some of these creaks, though new ones always sneak, alarming me in the middle of the night tiptoe trips to the kitchen for more water, a glimpse at stars, checking the chain on the back door.

This is to say nothing of the solace of the sound of the waves, the train through our east windows. This is to say nothing of the brief, beautiful walks from the car to the back door, always unexpectedly just what I need. I think even more than these walls I will miss what’s outside of them – the walks and runs down to the beach for a quick swim, the nights I find Jeff reading on the front stoop,

Now our voices echo off the bare walls. Now the creaks are even louder. Now I feel it, hollow. I would like to say (and perhaps I will, given time and kindness) “how full! how full our days!” and shake hands with former times with gratitude before turning my face forward.

But they come heaped up at once, the things I’ve taken for granted and now I’m realizing how much I will miss it. 

He looks to us for an explanation, for assurance.
Even now the world must be quite a lot for him. He is cognizant, aware of very tiny changes, very tiny events. He still stares at a single beam of light that comes from somewhere, hovering on the wall. He still stops at the sound of a helicopter, a loud truck, the train whistle in the distance. A single dry leaf skitters over the dusty rocks on the beach and he is transfixed, the whole world suspended except for the leaf, moving endlessly.
Being in his present makes time expand just slightly. It burgeons the seconds.

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Linear

Pregnancy was a faint line on the cheap test.

We upgraded to the expensive test, sold to me by Jayde who said, “I hope the results are favorable” which seemed a tactful way to acknowledge the weight of sending a stranger home with a pregnancy test.

Then it was quick, conspicuous. PREGNANT said the digital test. From that moment on, pregnancy was a long, clean line from start to finish. I was pregnant. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it was true.

I don’t mean to make pregnancy sound tidy, but there is comfort in the slow and steady progression, the growing, the symptoms. There is a consistency, a regulation to the size of the foods our baby became – sesame seed, blueberry, avocado, eggplant, pumpkin.

Motherhood is the opposite. There is no more arrival. We arrived, briefly. We all held each other and wept for joy and exhaustion and relief. The arrival was a breath.

Now is the sundering. Now he splays like a starfish in his sleep, and I can remember when he still curled up on my stomach, trying to fit back in the space from which he came.

And I will never arrive at his departure. When he is gone I’ll still miss him, still think of him. Pieces of him will be leftover, the way that Jeff has boxes of his things still at his folks and comes to visit and knows where to look for food, for empty boxes, for tools to borrow.

The progression is bumpy, inconsistent. He sleeps, he doesn’t, he does. He does not eat. He eats a little. He eats a lot. He throws his food on the floor and waves his arm “all done.” I eat the leftovers.
He crawls, scoots, crawls again, steps, scoots, runs. “Mama,” he says, and then not again for months despite my earnest coaxing, calling my own name.

Quick now, here, now, always–

We end up at the lake. Many morning or evening walks or spontaneous afternoon drives end at the beach for a quick swim, a snack, a curious finger in the water to see just how cold it’s become.

We return to it as if we’re looking for something we lost, as if repetition will mean redemption.

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I am thinking of returning. We come back here often, this stretch of beach. We have lived in this apartment longer than we’ve lived anywhere. We have the same jobs, the same family nearby, go to a church. I am more tethered to a place, to people, than I have been.

I have loved the solace of anonymity. I have loved new places, exploration, adventure. I have craved them. I have loved to be somewhere where little is expected of me, where I am not needed.

I am learning a new lesson, one of arriving again and again at the same destination, of turning around and once more opening my eyes to sameness, to the beauty of renewal. All things, every day, new. I am learning the importance of returning to an upturned face or lifting my own.

I was thinking of these things and read Lewis and his exploration of contemplation and enjoyment, looking at or looking along. I have looked at for a long while and enjoyed the impersonal space of observation. But now I am more often immersed, inhabiting, looking along the beam of light.

September

We walk the narrow path down the beach, grasshoppers leaping in and out of the grasses. I am carrying Jack in the car seat.
We are down by the water – it is so cold now even though it’s only early September. I wade in, take a deep breath, jump in. It is so much easier than it used to be. Jack flails delightedly from his car seat on the shore, beaming as I reemerge.

I feel guilty for doing something for the pure enjoyment of it. If the doing is its own reward, why spend time on it?
Writing is one such thing. It is an audacious thing. Sometimes even reading seems audacious. Who am I to spend my time in these ways? To clean a house, perhaps to take a walk, to make food, these things are sensible. Relaxing is also acceptable, and occasional laziness is forgivable. But to write? Nothing will come of it. Audacity is shameful.

Sometimes spending time with Jack is pure enjoyment. I should be cataloging it, should be photographing it to share. How many hundreds, thousands of minutes did we have just the two of us that I have no record of? How many thousands of moments have I watched him, not directed or instructed but observed, enjoyed quietly?

The morning swim is its own reward. I have nothing to show for myself. Writing is its own reward. Worse than nothing, I have something to show but it is not yet right. Being with Jack means I have produced no tangible expression for the passing of time in a day, only the burden of a fading collection of moments I’ve witnessed.