We had an appraisal today. We spent the weekend preparing; scrubbing this, fixing that and reorganizing everything else. It was exhausting maintaining a prolonged scrutiny of every corner of our house.

“Do you think this is too ratty?”

“Want me to trash this?”

“Maybe we should paint that?”

“Does this look weird?”

“Think it’s better this way?”

I began to crackle, my nerves were fried and the distance to finished seemed just beyond reach. Sunday was the final sprint and I couldn’t rest. I snapped at Sean and he retreated upstairs, a confused Fin, snug in his arms, craned her neck to watch me as he closed the door. I scrubbed and scoured until my arms shook from exertion and my legs trembled. After polishing the bench next to the window I finally sat.

The house was still. I looked back at all I had done- freshly vacuumed floors, squeaky-clean windows, and tidily organized bins of toys. Three bins, actually.


The mantle to my right held three frames. A picture of Ave, her face turned toward the camera, dark eyebrows against creamy cheeks and her little mouth over her sharp chin. I remembered the feel of her in my arms, strong even in those first hours. Her dark hair such an unexpected delight to us all. Then Fin, the frame was smaller, but her face shone front and center. Her lips parted, eyes expectant, “Are you coming?” it seemed to ask. Closest to me was Briar. This picture was in color, not black and white like the other two. She is in profile, flanked by dark stalks of grass on the top of Buck Mountain, Lake George as her backdrop. She is on the farthest edge of the frame, reminding me of the motion of that first year.

We’d just bought our house when we became pregnant. We worked tirelessly, preparing the house for our new life. She arrived the next fall, then came another year. First kisses, and the unforgettable advent of her first laugh as we lay in our bed on Christmas Eve feeling disappointed at the threadbare holiday, barely two nickels to rub together. That laugh, how it lifted us.

It was the day that we took her photo on Buck that I told Sean we would have another baby, that I was pregnant with Ave. Fearless, capable, and impervious to Briar’s initial reticence. You’ll love me. I know it. And she did. I touched the bench beneath me, the stage for many afternoon shenanigans. Two sisters, growing together, this way and that, like plants wending gently toward sunlight.

Fin made a sound upstairs and I felt myself shaking. It was the oddest thing feeling laughter come over me. I gave into it as I realized that no matter what the appraisers said to me, the only appraisal that really mattered was staring at me from our mantle. Three beautiful girls upon the mantle my husband had built while our first daughter grew in my belly.

My priceless life.