It was 10am and the girls were camped out at the dining room table which was scattered with arts supplies and notebooks. A fire roared in the wood stove, while a heat-drunk cat sprawled decadently nearby, paws akimbo. I glanced through the window at the outdoor thermometer, it read -8°. Avery and Briar were both in fleece footie pajamas, a post-holiday impulse buy spurred by years of longing from my long-torsoed Ave.
When I was packing two nights before I called Finley into the laundry room, “Honey, I can’t find your footie pjs. Do you know where they are?”
“No,” she said.
“Well, if you don’t help me find them, then I can’t bring them with us to Vermont.”
“Ok,” she shrugged.
“I don’t want you to be upset when your sisters have theirs and you don’t.”
“I won’t be, promise!” she skipped away.
I kept packing, still searching with half an eye for her teal pjs. Past experience gnawed at me with insistence, she’ll throw a fit. Eventually I was done packing and the pjs simply were not to be found. I winced anticipating the scene and the inevitable confrontation with Sean as he would declare Fin’s behavior unacceptable, which wouldn’t be untrue.
Watching the three of them working away at their projects, Briar coloring a wooden snake ornament, Finley coloring a fashion sketch, and Avery writing a letter to Hillary Clinton, the small details of our life shimmered. There are challenges and struggles with working and raising three kids, but mostly it’s easy; they’re easy. There was a time when I tried to construct the ideal childhood, my bar being to fill in whatever bare patches I remembered from my own childhood. Turns out the spots weren’t for lacking something, they were space for potential rather than keeping what didn’t matter.
The canvas of our time is stretched bits from the craft cabinet, treasured finds tucked on bookshelves, and the pull we have toward laughter. Weekend mornings are mellow, if occasionally peppered with sibling squabbles. We don’t have endless play dates or party invitations, we’ve stutter-stepped toward doing what it seems like everyone else is doing, but none of us can toe the line of truly enjoying it. When I ask the girls, “What would you like to do?” Their answer is “I want to be with my sisters and the family.”
Finley didn’t pitch a fit, and that fact sobered me. How often have I pointlessly jumped at the shadows of collisions I strive to avoid everyday, from how the girls may compare the things they get in a day, to how I’ll feel if I try once again to wear the tank top that rides up throughout the day, making me feel like a paunchy, hopeless lump. Like dieting in my twenties, the endurance of restraint and constant vigilance I had to not fall from the path toward a little skinnier, a little leaner, my mind spins at how to make the days smooth, ensure everyone is happy. I’m not sure why I doubt that it’s enough or feed the impulse to prepare endlessly for perfection. Standing at the edge of the table, as their sketches and letter take shape, I can see that their happiness isn’t mine to form, anymore than their art is mine to make, in fact they’ve got it just fine.
My eye catches on Finley’s bedhead, the strands of her hair leaping from the back of her head like live wires. I smile thinking of the cuddle we’d had. She always says, “I want to be lower,” a throwback, I imagine, to the days of nursing. The burrowing she’d done between my face, the pillows, and the covers had contributed to the tangled strands.
Briar’s head was bent studiously over the page. As much as Finley stretches her face toward the room, sharing her effort and excitement, Briar tilts ever more toward the core of whatever has her attention. It can be a salamander or a sequined fabric, she doesn’t discriminate in her passion. Where Finley’s hair is unruly and Avery’s thick, Briar’s is fine, the color of toast with honey. It slips around the nape of her neck and hugs the line of her jaw. The bare space left behind has changed, sports bras peaking through over her pale skin.
I didn’t think it would be literal, the idea of waking up one day to older kids. No, they aren’t older older, but they are older than the moment of my mothering that imprinted—the days of 3 kids under the age of four. Nursing, diapering, toddling, babbling are so far in the distance that if I’m honest the memories aren’t even warm. The fat crayons they used to grasp have been replaced by artist’s pens. They don’t need me to shush away boo boos, they want me to listen to their adventures and open up the caverns of my memory and share details from when I was their age.
I can hear the echo of strangers and friends saying, “Just you wait, one day…” None of them had it completely right, each drawing from their own experience, the etchings of the sounds and moments experienced around tables different from my own. We’re all working on our own sketch, but it makes perfect sense to lean over and say, “You have to use this color, it’s the best.”
I am getting to know until one day, it’s so momentous that you want to impress upon anyone who will listen that it’s happened, but also, it’s just another day. If we’re lucky they keep coming, along with the revelations that time has passed, that we have grown, and that despite loving life with every last bit of strength and passion that we have, none of it is within our control. It is just there for us to love if we dare.