Let me open by saying that the past couple of weeks have been fucking hard. If that kind of language, or openness, makes you want to clutch your pearls or a rosary, then feel free to do so then keep reading, or not. All I’m saying is that this could turn out to be the Good Will Hunting of blog posts (f-word abounding…and a possible Oscar nomination?) so you’ve been warned.
We were on a break. Not the kind of break one chooses; no, no one chooses a solid week of diarrhea peppered with vomit emanating from their children’s various holes. No one takes the already exhausting season of parenting young children and says, “You know what we need more of? We need more intensity, more fecal-borne bacterial infections, more shit stains on our rug, more laundry piling up.” No one–okay, maybe some people, but not this someone, not yours truly–naturally embraces the shedding of a schedule we’d just gotten accustomed to, the watching of it being replaced by endless hours of Nick Jr and glazed eyes and dehydration and wondering if your own turn is next, if the getaway you’d planned for the following week has been shot to literal shit. No one looks at all that and adds layers atop it called “contractors working all over our house,” spraying dust and paint fumes and hearing my opening-scene-of-Saving-Private-Ryan form of battlefield parenting, all terse comments and desperate pleas and angry wails. No one figures the perfect cherry on top of that crap sundae would be an overhanging possibility–likelihood–that we are being called to move halfway across the world, away from family, and the network of doctors and therapists we’ve assembled for The Kid, and the church that has been a lifeline of counsel and laughter and tears and deep friendship. All that has made this place our home.
And yet we were on a break. A break from the summer routine, for there would be no trips to the gym or trips of any kind in the car, no limitations on screen time, no rules. Just survival. And (now that I’m a week out of it) I can see the beauty in that bare-bones form of living, that forced togetherness sustained by back rubs and tears, by TK calling me “Doctor Mommy” and by the three of us spending hours lying on the bed, their tiny sick and recovering bodies pressed into mine because some instinct tells them I am their protector, even when I feel like I’m shit at it. In lieu of gym childcare and my alone time, we headed outside: I pulled the stroller from its summer parking spot in the garage in the early morning and they piled in, pants-less and with a towel perched over the handlebar in case of leakage, and we pounded the pavement of our neighborhood in a way and of a duration that we’ve not experienced since late spring. I walked, I climbed hills, I marveled through copious sweating at how TK is conversational–a feat unaccomplished the last time we took a walk. Maybe I even got a little color. It was a break from health, a break from the usual, a break from my reliance upon routine. It sucked–hard–while making space for moments of sweet beauty that wouldn’t have shown up otherwise.
And then, thank God, it was over.
A day later than planned, we piled into the car and headed three hundred miles southwest, to my parents’. We arrived in one piece, without traffic or bowel movements–a modern-day version of water into wine–and unpacked. Settled in for a week. There is a view of the water from every room here, and shouldn’t that be enough? Maybe, if you’re the type flummoxed by f-bombs and calmed immediately by the sound of a Bible verse, but me? I’m given to more erratic blood pressure, to the occasional need for pharmaceuticals because they’re less frowned upon at 9 am than an open bottle of wine. I need a little edge with my Jesus, and we’re both fine with that, thanks. There are layers now, extending above and beneath and all around my own ish, namely in the form of small children and one in particular courting a brand of anxiety that both mirrors and extends in waves past my own, to recesses that feel beyond my reach and understanding, and what mother is ever going to just lie down and fucking accept that? So I feel myself trying, trying to get it, to fix it–to fix him?–and the effort, exhausting and overwhelming, is not the answer. A new environment, a new routine, a new time zone, and he is in pieces on the floor, and my heart breaks even as I want to scream and run as far as my legs will take me then call an Uber for the remaining mileage. Fear upon guilt upon sadness, and no water view is going to snap its fingers and fix that. In fact, that–the hard parts of our stories, the chapters that withstand our editing, that don’t get “try”-ed out,–it laps like waves at the parts of me I want to hide, the parts of myself I want to fix, and it makes all hope–all proclamations of “yet” (he isn’t speaking yet, he isn’t fully potty-trained yet, he isn’t holding his head upright yet, he isn’t proficient socially yet–yets both vanquished and still hanging around)–seem utterly stupid.
I feel undone, and the waves rise over my head, submerging me.
And yet–there is always a rescue. There is always grace. It never comes by my trying, for at this point I am down to my last breath.
I take TK outside while Little Brother sleeps, and he wants to walk out on the pier, to which I inwardly respond, “Goddamn it.” The wind is gusting, and he’s standing where the rails have ended, where a wrong step could land him in the bay. Swim lessons have not progressed to this point yet. We are on “vacation”, where a balcony appears and all I see are plummets to death, where piers materialize and all I see are drownings. No movie ever tells you this about love: how the threats close in so hard you don’t think you can stand it. I hold my breath, tense up, want to cry. How can I live free for both of us?
He turns, his bravery and my terror packaged in the same moment, and runs back up the pier, the rails on either side of him allowing me to breathe again. I consider–grace rescues me to consider–that there are rails everywhere–just like I’ve told him about potties–everywhere, I just can’t see them. That we are, all of us, moving freely along our particular piers in what looks like autonomy and freedom, but we will never move beyond the rails that hold us, that protect us. I think about the videos The Husband stumbled upon while downloading Peppa Pig to the iPad for our trip, how we watched them together on the bed I’d shared with the boys on all those sick days, how I’d stared, crying and laughing, barely able to watch how he’d been a year ago–silent and frustrated–this glimpse allowing me to see more fully where he is now. That today’s fucking hard is not the same as last year’s. As yesterday’s. That we are moving, and there are rails. There are planks ahead that I can’t even see, but I can see the ones behind us to know they will keep going.
The next day of “vacation,” I drive TH to the airport for his work trip, and for the forty-minute drive back to my parents’ I am alone, pieces of my heart scattered about the general vicinity but not beside me. There are so many red lights. I reach yet another and it gives me the time–the space–to look up. A rainbow is arched ahead in the distance. I am rescued by grace to consider how often I try to live outside my own story, the “what if”s–what if it were easier? what if we were both less anxious? what if I said fuck less and didn’t get so lost in my own emotional turbulence?–seemingly harmless but actually poisonous, because there is no What If to this pier, to this path–it is ours, period. Why do I try to edit it out? I breathe, try on embracing rather than fighting, and drive toward a rainbow with every single color, light that is always there whether I see it–feel it, believe it–or not, and head toward the promise that holds me between its rails.