FOUR years SEVEN months + TWO years ONE month
Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. Let us rise early and fast, gently and without perturbation [anxiety]; let company come and let company go, let the bells ring and the children cry, determined to make a day of it.
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
It’s been exactly three months since we moved into the new house.
I thought I’d write to you as soon as I unpacked my computer, but my mind has been elsewhere, exclusively concentrating on allowing myself and my family to settle and melt and soften into this space. It has taken time, as all changing things do. But now it feels as if we’ve always been here.
There was the unpacking and rearranging and getting used to the little piles of meager changes I never anticipated…like which light switches turned on which lights. Or figuring out the most efficent outlets to plug the sweeper into, so I could do an entire room with enough cord length. Or adjusting to the feeling of the new floors on my bare feet. I wore slippers all throughout the warm September, unconsciously avoiding the confrontation of change.
I made so many lists in those first few weeks, each one written with a shaky hand, as I anxiously tried to remember what I needed on the next Target trip. Command hooks…hand towels…What did the kids need again? Oh, curtain rods. And another garbage can. I should’ve been able to relax, but the ability to find calm is often directly related to my house. So I had to finish all my basic to-dos and get everything we needed to make our lives feel less disrupted.
The kids took time to adjust, too––especially in regards to the yard. Until mid-October, the outside was a field of mud. There were excavator tracks dug deep into the unfinished soil, which collected rain water and made dozens of mucky little ponds––it was impossible for Marion and Everett to play without getting sucked boot-deep into the wet earth. At Garden Terrace (the old house), all they did was play outside, needing two showers and/or baths a day to prove it.
One night, within those first few weeks, I was tucking Everett into bed, and he told me he missed “the house with the two trees.” The little one, he said. And when I closed his door a few minutes later, I gently cried. I knew he would adjust and that our new yard would soon make new memories, but it hurt to know my baby missed something.
Even though we no longer have the old, beautiful oak trees he was referring to, we have the woods. And when we look out our windows, instead of seeing rows of brick houses and garbage bins set out on another routine Monday night, we see trees. And a single road, that’s so far away, the passing cars look like I could scoop them up with my hand, from high up on the hill.
Living privately has been the best change to come out of building this house.
If I’m outside when Chris pulls up the long driveway in his truck, I flash him like a high school cheerleader, because no one can see me. He’ll beep his horn as he swings the wheel around the final curve, parking and smiling––not because he just saw my boobs, but because we’re both thinking the same thing: how fun it is to not be seen…how wonderful it feels to be living the way we are.
It’s freeing to sing loudly outside or yell at the kids without witnessing neighbors or to walk out at night and feed my bunny without pants.
I thought the bigger space and the metal railing staircase and custom kitchen and a pantry and all the other beautiful things about this house were going to be what changed our lives. And while it all definitely has, being surrounded by nature feels like the defining line for my family.
The woods make me feel as if I’ve returned home, which in an obviously real sense, I have; I grew up three miles from our property. And I’m now driving the same roads you once did, slowly swerving the familiar curves of Sardis Road, while remembering the way your manicured fingers would effortlessly glide the steering wheel back and forth through the comforting bends that I swear I could now drive blind.
The familiarity of my surroundings makes me think of you more often. But so does the sound of the trees when bending with the wind, or the woodpeckers relentlessly hitting their rotted holes, or the quick shuffle of leaves as chipmunks scavenge the ground; it has all become a way of building awareness to my Source. I’m reminded when I stop and listen or look, that there’s something much bigger going on around me, at all times; a continuous current of life––one that you are a part of. And then for a fleeting moment, the accuracy of a Target list seems insignificant.
Everett’s second year of preschool began at the beginning of October, and not to my surprise, he absolutely loves it. He runs in every day, so excited to see his teacher, that sometimes he forgets to kiss me goodbye. And he wears his mask better than most of the parents at pick-up. I tell him every night how proud I am that he keeps it on, while I hug and hold him and listen to his evening prayer:
Thank you for the world so sweet
Thank you for the food we eat
Thank you for the birds that sing
Thank you God for everything.
He learned it at his “old” school, where he spent his first year, and it’s special to him. When he recites the lines solo, he tells me to smile. “Make you happy, Mommy.” And he shrugs his shoulders up to his ears and tilts his little head and smiles so big, all his teeth show, because he’s making me proud.
Everett is a pleaser. He loves nothing more than to make me happy and to do the right thing. And he always admits when he’s done something wrong, like drawing on walls instead of tracing the letters of the alphabet.
I’ve heard people talk about “love languages,” and he’s someone who likes to hear affirmations of love and praise. He’s like his mother. And he likes hugging and being held and kissed.
Every night after his bath, as I cocoon him up in his towel, he asks me to hold him like a baby. And most times I scoop him up, carry him to his room, and toss him on the bed, where I expect him to be the independent big boy I’ve taught him to be––to get dressed and brush his teeth and fill his water cup, while I retrieve his sister from the tub.
Now she, on the other hand, immediately runs free from her wrapped towel and away from my arms, flouncing naked and in a flurry to her room, where she lays down and waits for me to do what she cannot; strap on a diaper and put on pajamas.
Marion has grown into another toddler since we moved; it’s like she’s finally been set free with the extra space to run and hide and play. She often goes “missing” when I leave them alone with a movie on, which is my only tool for curling my hair in peace. And then if I ask Everett, “Where did Mimi go?” he always says, “Uh…she went into the woods.” Which first off is impossible, because our yard (that now has grass) is fenced off from the wilderness, and I can assure you she’s never escaped.
Chris and I will find her upstairs, cuddled in the spare bedroom covers, with stacks of blankets over her and a tiny head popping out. And I’d have to say her two favorite things, aside from hiding, are her stuffed animals and walking around while eating slices of American cheese.
Since Everett started school, Marion and I have a few hours of alone time, three days a week. And I’ve noticed that when I sit with her on the couch and watch Moana for the millionth time, she appreciates it. She likes quality time together, and until recently, I always just thought she didn’t need me the way Everett did.
Sometimes when I’d try to hold her, she’d protest a loud, drawn-out, “Nooooo!” Or I’d sneak snuggles while she drank her morning bottle on the couch, and she’d literally press my cheek away with her palm, and scream. I didn’t understand. I truly thought she didn’t like me. I’d wonder what her teenage years were going to look like if this is how we got along in toddlerhood.
But she’s not like Everett. She is like her father. Marion appreciates time spent together; that’s her love language. And when we go to Target, just the two of us, and I have her favorite snacks on hand, ready for her demands while she sits in the cart, I enjoy her. And she enjoys me. We flow and jive together.
My relationship with Everett has always been effortless because I give him love the way I like to receive it. But it never occurred to me that some children don’t want to be smothered with kisses and hugs––that maybe allowing Marion to help me unload groceries is the way to her heart.
When I come home from Trader Joe’s and she sees the stuffed brown paper bags, she stamps her feet in excitement and runs to the kitchen, waiting for me. She repeats her polite manners with each and every item she hands over: Here ya go Mommy. You’re welcome Mommy.
Or she likes to be my shadow when I do chores, asking to push the start button on the washer, or wanting to sit on my hip while I wipe down the kitchen counters, fascinated as she observes. When she finds a stray paper towel, I’ll catch her copying the cleaning strokes on a window sill or the coffee table.
I know she’s aware of me. I know she wants to be with me. It’s just in a different way, and I’m thankful to have realized that now, rather than when she’s eighteen.
I feel like it’s my job as their mother, to show my affection in whatever form they receive best––whether that’s Target dates on Tuesdays, or holding Everett in my arms until he realizes he’s not a baby.
Chris is relieved that the stress of building is finally over. And while he doesn’t feel spiritually connected and grounded to the woods, he’s living his best life, navigating our land with his new tractor. And he finally has an office of his own, making the “work from home life,” a lot more manageable. It’s been an adjustment to constantly be around each other, and the first few weeks, I’d open his sound proof door and scream, “This isn’t going to workkkkkkkk!”
I could hear his every move: when the toilet flushed, when he got a computer ping, when his office chair squeaked, when he’d annoyingly clear his throat. But we’ve learned how to navigate around each other, and the kids get to see him all day, which is the best part.
He remains my best friend and my helper and an equal partner. We are healthily dependent on each other, but sometimes that terrifies me, because I understand it could all be taken away.
Because of the virus, we spent Thanksgiving this year alone, and at night, while we gave the kids a bath, I said something about missing my family.
“This has been a great day. My family is right here in this house,” he replied.
And I told him I wanted to think that way too, that I want to dive into this life with him and the kids and partially forget about the rest of the world––but I’m scared something will happen to him. So I hold cautiously on the brake, tip-toeing enjoyment because it’s dependent on the family I’ve made for myself…it’s dependent on him––he’s very literally half of what we’ve created.
I re-built what I once lost, and the thought of a single piece crumbling is threatening. So in order to protect myself, I pretend I don’t have my entire world at my feet.
I watched my last family’s life be taken away: the one where you and Dad and my brother and sisters were all one. I watched what happened when someone dies. I watched what happened when a family had absolutely everything and then absolutely nothing after one doctor appointment.
But I must learn to separate what happened to you. I must understand that happiness does not equate a downfall.
And Chris was right. We had a peaceful day, Grandma still cooked and everyone picked up the food in their cars, and we were together; us and our kids.
As to make our new home more complete, we recently added a member to the family. On a particularly slow morning, I got the idea to get the kids a hamster, so before thinking it all through too much, I told Everett he was getting a surprise, and we went to Pet Smart, where he picked out a little dwarf we soon named Fig.
And while I was in my laundry room, setting Fig’s cage up and giving my eight-year-old rabbit an oatmeal bath in the utility sink (he’s been sick with a stubborn skin irritation), Chris just looked at me and said, “I think you need another baby, babe.”
The idea has ever so slowly felt more and more comfortable.
Ever since I had Marion, I swore to myself I was done for at least five years. I was convinced I’d create a gap, wait until she was in school, and have another at thirty-three or so, and then pop out a fourth like a cherry on top. I wanted that gap because you had that gap. And it worked wonderfully for our family; it made us who we once were.
I also wanted to wait until my tattoo was completely lasered off. And a handful of other reasons that will always be there and/or substituted for new ones.
But suddenly waiting feels like a waste of time. I want to let the bells ring and the children cry and just throw myself wildly into this life, no longer being scared, no longer needing to do what you did, even though I think I’ll balance on that beam of being myself and being you for as long as I live.
When Chris made that baby comment the other day, as I had my hair tied back and was scrubbing the rabbit’s bottom with medical gloves and a disgusted look on my face, I turned my head towards him and laughed. “Once I get my baby chicks in the spring, you can get me pregnant. Deal?”
And he smiled and walked away, the way he does when a point has been made, and there’s nothing left to say.