It wasn’t even a week ago that I called the house:

“Hey, it’s me. Just checking to see how things are going.”

Sean sat across from me, a plate of stuffed mushrooms between us, our hands laced together over the small corner table at Davidson’s. He was smiling, always tender as I struggle to gain purchase in the morass of loving time alone with him and feeling guilt for choosing to be away from the girls.

“Oh, we’re fine. They’ve forgotten who you are.” My mom joked. “I should tell you, we’ve been doing body art.”

“Body art?” I asked, Sean stopped nodding his head to the man singing the blues on the stage, and turned to me raising his eyebrows, “Body art?” he mouthed.

“Uh huh. We’re putting tattoos on each other. Don’t hurry back, have fun.”

“Ok,” I said shaking my head. Relieved that they were having fun and grateful I’d been able to make the check-in call.

We spent the next hour holding hands and eating our dinner Lady and the Tramp style. The owners of the restaurant, celebrating their 11 professional anniversary, visiting every so often to tease us and chat. It was exciting to be out and slightly bittersweet as it was my mom and sister’s last night in town.

When we got home the girls ran to us,

“Doe-rah. Doe-rah.” Avery squealed.

“Look, mama, I got one Dora, and one ‘nother Dora and a flower. And I got another one of a flower on my foot. Can you see it? Do you love it, my Dora and Dora and flowers?” Briar’s face was flushed, her eyes wide.

“N’Doe-rah hand!”Avery bleated.

My mom and Abbie walked up behind them looking every bit as excited as the girls. Abbie told us with twinkling eyes,”For the record, the body art was all mom’s idea.” We spent the next twenty minutes or so admiring the tattoos, ooh and ahing appropriately.

The next day we made arrangements for Mom and Ab to drop the girls off at the sitter’s, thereby avoiding a tearful farewell. It worked, the girls hopped out of the strolland clambered up the sitter’s steps, Briar without so much as a second glance, Avery, however, stopped,turning back to my mom and Abbie. She knew something was amiss, but wasn’t sure what. She’d spent the better part of a week molding her body to my mom’s chest, her dark eyes dancing beneath thick bangs as she grinned, her face tight against my mom’s shoulder. When she wasn’t cuddling and flirting she was walking belly jutting forward and bottom sticking out studiously enunciating, “Aw-bee. Aw-bee!” It didn’t feel right to watch them walk off with the stroller.

Her eyes have punished me for a week since.

“Uh, grandma?” Dark blue eyes boring into me.

“She went home, honey.”

“Aw-bee. Aw-bee.”Voice cracking.

“She’s home too, baby, but they’ll be back. Or we’ll go see them.”

Then she raises her hand to my face, eyebrows furrowed, “Uh, Grandma, uh see Grandma? Ooooh?”

“Soon, sweetie. I promise.” I pull her to me and she hugs me, her hand patting my back.

“Tanks. Tanks uh Grandma.” And she touches my face once more.

Later as we’re eating at the dinner table, Avery’s face is covered in ketchup and she raises her hand to take another bite, then stops abruptly. Her hand hangs in the air. Briar looks at her, then looks at us, then she looks down at her own hand.

“Mommy, Daddy? Do you know this is my Dora from Grandma and Abbie? Do you know that?”

We watch, nodding. Avery looks at her hand, tracing the fading Dora with sticky fingers. The memory of the visit seems to sweeten and strengthen with each flaking bit of tattoo.

“Doe-rah. Grandma.”

“That’s right, Avery. That’s your Dora from Grandma. Mom, where’s Grandma? Where’s Abbie?” She asks, blue eyes so light they’re almost transparent.

“They went home on a plane Briar.” Sean explains. “Maybe we’ll go and see them soon, ok? And they can come and visit again.”

“Aw-bee. Aw-bee and Grandma comin’. Comin!” Avery’s legs are kicking, beating against her high chair, ketchup splatters against the wall. For a moment my eyes blur as I consider the miles, the ketchup on the wall like bloody tears. I curse the distance that lays between us, wishing it were easier. Easier to navigate the realities of a big world with incredible technology and luxuries, but with nothing that can take the place of screaming at the top of your lungs with your aunt or of curling in your grandma’s lap and reading. I wish for one second that things were different, that it weren’t three time zones and too many busy schedules between us, wish that I’d taken a different path.

And then I look around the table at the three sets of blue eyes staring back at me. I see the paper pumpkins the girls made in the window, see the tree that shades us out front. Behind me is the porch my grandpa sat on, the place they held Briar during her first days. I see the pictures from our wedding and the glass cabinet filled with heirlooms from our families, the blending of two people’s lives from opposite sides of the country. Looking at those eyes and these walls that surround us I see a miracle that could only have happened one way. So I swallow my lump and smile at our girls.

“You know what? Grandma and Abbie love you very much. They had so much fun and we are going to see them again. How about we read the books Grandma brought after we take a bath, ok?”

And they begin the frantic dance to get out of their seats and up to the bath as fast as they can. I know that we are not done, that they’ll wonder tomorrow and the next day and the day after where Grandma and Ab have gone. I don’t think it will ever get easier, but we’ll get by. There will be visits and stories. We’ll look at pictures and remember. And one day we’ll find that we’ve carved a path of our own, a path lined with trees that will shelter us, flowers that will delight us, and kissed by a breeze that will carry the memories of our time together when we walk alone.