I wrote this over at table1095 today. It’s a bit about your first day of school yesterday.
I wrote this over at table1095 today. It’s a bit about your first day of school yesterday.
Tomorrow night we’ll put you to bed, only to wake you a few hours later and carry your sleep-slackened body to the car. We’ll murmur goodbyes to the kittens and then head to the airport, to fly into the next tomorrow. We will rent a car and drive it onto a ferry, wheeling our way across a broad lake. And then we’ll drive some more, watching hills grow into mountains until the air is air I know again and you two–your dad and you–are breathing for the first time the pine-drenched ether I hold in the small gaps between fibers of my body.
You will be the sixth generation of my family to go to these mountains. Pamp and I counted, worked our way back until there was no farther to go. Bringing you there feels imperative. It is how I imagine Christian mothers feel about baptizing their babies. Welcome to my lineage, Squid, welcome to one of my wooden homes.
We will don bathing suits and run through the sloping grass to water’s edge. I will follow you in or invite you, depending on your druthers. But I will bring you to that water and I will wash you in it. I will show you how to close your mouth and breathe in in in until your lungs might burst from the expanse of it all. I will fill you with pine and fresh fish and harvest moons and loon calls. I will show you the true other of the city.
There will be a party for Nannie and Pamp. Almost 30 of us will be there, and your dad will do all the cooking. If you ever wonder if somebody loves you, ask yourself whether they would cook for 30 people 30 hours after crossing the country for your parents’ 30th wedding anniversary. If the answer is yes, then they probably do. Either that or they’re a show-off. You’ll know.
It feels perfect, this slip away into the woods. No cell phones or computers. Just books. And board games. And hikes. And canoeing. And swimming. And eating. No work. And then, when we come back, you and I will spend a day together before I drop you off at school the next morning. A day, just us. Perfect.
While we are gone, we will complete our third–and hopefully final–round of MRSA protocol. When we are done, we will have been actively combatting MRSA for nine months. In a former life, I would have resented bringing MRSA protocol on vacation. Now, though, the help of family and the hope of a finish line just makes vacation feel all that much more vacation-y. Plus, they installed a washer and dryer in the cabin finally. That makes daily laundry a bit easier to stomach.
I probably won’t write here while we’re gone. I will take pictures, though, and post them when we return. I hope you love these mountains as much as I do. If not, though, at least you’ll better know where I come from and what I call home.
Sitting at the dining room table next to your dad, red cushions against heavy wood beneath us and your teacher going through the forms we need to fill out, a sound I’d never heard from you before–a deflation–sparked around the corner from the infant playroom and tightened my heart in the moments it entered my ears.
Your new teacher, seated across from us after a long day of tending to small folks, smiled at us and called over her shoulder to you, “Are you okay?” But as she did, your dad was on his feet and in the doorway and then next to you. I was right behind.
You wore your new backpack–the one we got your for school but that first you’ll pack full of favorites for a cross country trek–to the paperwork meeting tonight. You tucked Mokey inside before we headed out, Mokey the monkey who slept beside your dad for so many years before he started sleeping next to you. There, on the floor of the infant’s playroom, you sat holding Mokey and sobbing. A terrified, grasping, gulping sob. Airless and hawing and feeling completely alone. I don’t think you’ve ever felt scared and alone at the same time before. It is a devastating combination.
Your dad held you. I held you. Your teacher asked if you would like some music. She told you that you can bring in your favorite song and she will play it. We asked if you’d like to come sit at the table with us. You couldn’t say yes, only nodded.
At the table you sat pressed against me, the way you slept as a baby. Ear turned to chest, arms wrapped around. You couldn’t stop, couldn’t find the breath needed to let breathing resume. Your teacher brought you a banana. Your dad got you a cup of water. I stroked your fuzzy head and steadied my breath. Slowly you started to calm.
As we talked through the paperwork and what days are like at your new school, you periodically started to cry again–a quivering lower lip, a lowering of your eyes. And every time you did I wanted to quit my job. Every time you did I wanted to just keep doing things the way we’ve done them so far. Every time you did I wanted to apologize to your new teacher, thank her for her time, and carry you out of there as fast as I could.
Instead I told you it’s ok to feel nervous. I told you it’s ok to feel scared. And I told you that I think you will love school. We talked about book reading and song singing and project making. We talked about bringing a bop and a soft thing and how you can have them any time you’d like. We talked about making friends and watering the garden and what good hugs your new teacher gives.
We have a few weeks to help you prepare. I worked out a game plan for your first morning drop-off with your new teacher: a BIG hug, a BIG smile, a BIG i-love-you, and out the door. I will cry all the way to work. I already am.
Out of nowhere, I went back to work.
I’ve been working, I should say. I went to school 6 weeks after you were born and, when I finished, I picked up shifts at the restaurant while I looked for employment that utilized my degree. I interned. I took a writing class. I freelanced.
But all of that is different from what suddenly transpired last week. Five days. Fifty hours. Every week.
Gone are our trips to the grocery store, our aimless wandering down aisles while you push the cart and I toss in detergent and radishes and treats for the cats. Gone are our impromptu trips to the little farm in the hills, errands and house cleaning tossed aside for a gloomier day in favor of fresh air and the space afforded by the middle of the week to mingle with animals at our own pace. We no longer have days that are just the two of us home. We no longer have a single day, no more have the space of even a single morning to linger in bed, nursing and chatting alone while the sun rises and the kitties unfurl across the foot of the bed. I had always thought the day would come when we’d be weekend and evening and brief morning visitors, but it took a week slipping under my belt in order for me to notice. To get it. To let the no-mores sink in.
It feels like loss. It is loss. For both of us.
There is another story, too. Different from ours right now, but with shared space:
My brother is coming back tonight, flying over continents and oceans and landing back on earth that I technically could walk to again. That I WOULD walk to if it came to it. For almost a year, I have been unable to call him. For almost a year, I have not known where he is in a moment, been unable to conjure up the sensory knowledge of his space. For almost a year, I have answered my phone anytime a blocked call comes in, hoping not to miss our brief chances to connect. He is my brother, Maxine, breath of my breath and my first friend. I want to say that he is coming home, but I don’t know that. I don’t know where his home is, and I won’t presume. What I do know, though, is that I am coming home. Home, for me, is knowing where to find him. I did not know that until I couldn’t.
He was hit by a car when we were kids. It is a long story, a messy scrawl of scars on his body and visceral snippets in the brains and hearts of the rest of us. But there is a moment that is important to tangle in here, now. The night he came home from the hospital, I walked up the stairs to peek in on him. My dad was coming out of his room as I rounded the top of the stairs and he put his finger to his lip to indicate Gerrit was sleeping. We met in the middle of the hallway, hugged silently as tears rolled down both of our cheeks. And then my dad whispered, “The air feels different now. The air feels right again now that he’s home.” That’s how I feel tonight. After a year, the air feels right again.
When I come home from work each night, I can’t get enough of you. You run to the door to greet me, brimming with stories and questions and come here’s. You give me a big hug. We cuddle and chat and dance our way straight through to bedtime. Suddenly, the sun is dropping. Suddenly, I am whispering goodnight.
Before I went back to work, these evening hours often felt endless, the final slog to the moment in the day when I could finally find quiet and my own thoughts and your dad. Every day was the same, governed by your needs and our moods and the weather and whatever else governs a day spent with a toddler.
But now I come home each night. Now each night the air feels right again.