4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Last weekend was our last in Maine, or at least the last real day of summer for us.
I awoke early, crept to the window and was despondent. There was nothing, just a blanket of white, a fog so thick it pressed my breath right back into my throat. Crushing.
I lay back down, waiting for the house to wake up, lamenting this heavy end to summer, even my last day of paddleboarding in sweet silent peace, stolen from me.
Later, as I swept away the sand, stashed away the faded, water-stained Monopoly game and the decks of cards, dog-eared and missing Queens and Aces, the kids poked one another, wrestling and tattling and two minutes away from a visit to the ER or a major time out. Enough!
I gave them an assignment.
“Here are your sketchbooks and here are your art supplies. Draw your favorite summer memories. Everyone who participates in our art show gets a treat.” Then I returned to my cleaning and packing. The kids bent to their task.
Mercifully they colored for awhile with only an occasional, “Pass the red.” Or, “Does this look like a buoy?”
And finally, “Mama? Is it Wednesday tomorrow?”
Reid is so excited for her first day of kindergarten, or at the very least, for her new sneakers which, I admit, are awesome.
“No, baby. Tomorrow is Tuesday and then Wednesday is the next day.”
And then 5-year-old Reid turned to her 4-year-old sister,”I’m going to miss you, Cabot.”
To which Cabot replied, “I’m going to miss you, too.”
I had to take photos, it was that perfect a moment.
As I continued to wipe dried oatmeal off chairs and fold slightly damp beach towels to be pulled out in nine months, smelling gloriously of subtle mildew and clam flats and shells, I remembered leaving the beach each summer as a child.
My family only went away for two weeks or sometimes just one, and we slept in an unwinterized cottage, smelling of the damp salt air and woodsmoke. I marked my growth through these yearly glimpses of peaceful summer. The morning of our journey home, I’d walk down the street to the beach and stand in the shallows and say good-bye to the distant horizon. I would remind myself to remember this feeling.
As I continued cleaning the kitchen and the kids drew in the living room, I realized that those stolen summer days in Cape Cod were magical in part because they were the only weeks we had without my retarded brother Butchie, which seems a cruel realization for the last day of summer.
But for a child, can you imagine? Those were the only weeks without the incessant chatter of his television and his accompanying screams or cries or spitting. The squeak and cry of his leg braces and the smacking sounds of his inner arms against his head as he shook, shook, shook, back and forth, these were silenced for us. My fear of him being rushed off to the hospital, or worse yet, dying, were left back at home with the clutter, the pressures of school, the desire to fit in.
Those weeks my older sisters and younger brother and I would dig for clams or walk the sandbars or sail my father’s little faux-Sunfish sailboat.
And it’s not that I didn’t love my brother, Butchie. I loved him like I love having bizarrely large feet. First it’s nothing unusual, just life as you know it; then it’s an embarrassment; sometimes it makes you special; and finally, it is something that I appreciated for the miles and miles they would carry me through all sorts of terrain. And he carries me today. But still, it was exhausting.
At the ocean there was real silence. Even with my father’s feeding tube humming throughout the night and my mother’s tight rein, Cape Cod, to me, represented peace.
Ruminating over all this, I cleaned out the refrigerator, cleared out the dishwasher, scrubbed the toilets. When I checked in on the kids they’d drawn pictures of a favorite toy we’d picked up at a funky little gift shop, the jellyfish we’d watch from atop my paddleboard and the lobsterman pulling his traps.
And of course, Jasper drew a picture of a yellow-haired boy on a kayak.
I looked out the window to see that somehow the fog had finally lifted. The cove stretched before us, dead calm, with only the faintest mysterious wisps of feathery clouds hanging on the distant shore.
I took Jasper’s hand. “Want one last paddle in your kayak before you head to school on Wednesday?” He nodded and ran to get his suit on.
I dropped my mop, grabbed my paddleboard, and we headed out to back beach. I told him he was paddling with Mama today, to where the ocean meets the inlet meets the cove, further than he’d ever been on his own.
And as we charted territory new for him and blessedly familiar to me, he noticed every new detail. “Mama!” he called from behind me. “Is that a tuna boat or a lobster boat? Is that a yacht? The ferry!! Are those the corm’ands?”
“Cormorants,” I replied.
“Look! Is that the Sunfish we saw up on the dock yesterday? Like you and your sister sailed in Cape Cod?”
Inexplicably, almost lost in the fog, there was a tiny sailboat heading out of the distant cove. It was like there was my sister and I, headed out to sea in some Richard Bach parallel life.
Here we are, this beautiful first long paddle for my oldest with his mother by his side, exploring an unknown world, preparing for the wonders that await. And there we were, my sister and I, in search of peace on the summer ocean. It was like there were intersecting rings of time, circling back through the decades. Unreal.
We finished our paddle, returned to the house. Then I did the last of the cleaning, we packed the car, said good-bye for now, and began our journey, merging with all the other traffic heading south to first days of school and cluttered homes and the real life that awaits.