4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Tonight my two girls and I saw our neighbors walking down the road in front of our house. We hadn’t seen them for awhile, not since they found us trying to sled on the hill out front with sleds made of duct tape, plastic bags and old boogey boards earlier this winter.
It had been bitingly cold that day, and I was recovering from one of those mornings where someone was melting down at all times. It was the day my husband had mistakingly driven away with our sleds, when we were tired of the snow, our board games and card games and, honestly, of each other. It was Valentine’s Day.
I distractedly shared the blah, blah of the kids’ recent accomplishments, asked after this couple’s children and grandchildren. He seemed especially bright-eyed and eager to connect while she seemed uncharacteristically tired, almost dreamy.
Finally, I may have asked after their health, but likely only after he’d asked about ours. And it turned out that she’d been newly diagnosed with one of those diseases that doesn’t roll off your tongue but that you’re certain is the one you don’t want your doctor to say to you under any circumstances. It was one of those things for which cures don’t come easily or without cost, one of the things for which “cure” has been redefined.
This is a lively couple. Ruddy-cheeked and constantly active, trim and fit and both with Dr. in front of their names, whether professorially or medically. They appear young despite hints of gray, hardly old enough to convincingly appear to be grandparents.
The summer we’d first met them, I’d stand at the water’s edge and watch him haul first his, then her kayak, down to the water, handing her a paddle and vest. He’d push both boats out and into the gentle surf, quickstep through the shallows to hop into his and then they’d paddle out into the cove with him in the lead.
It always seemed an odd transaction, his carrying her kayak. She is simultaneously sharp and gentle, New England strong and to me, nearly formidable. Slim and lovely in a way I dare not dream of still being when I finally have grandchildren, I couldn’t believe he was pulling her boat, carrying her weight, that she would routinely paddle behind.
It was a quiet afternoon at high tide when the water had shifted from bitterly cold to merely mind-numbing that first summer. She’d come down to the beach, stripped to her trim one piece and headed straight out into the water up to her chest and began matter-of-factly swimming from one side of the cove to the other. I think her daughter was there with me, watching.
Her mom had been sick a few years before, she’d told me, with another kind of something that required people to bike, run or walk for a cure. It had taken her upper body strength, and she was swimming to gain it back, or at least maintain what she’d been left.
Which explained the solicitous delivery of the kayaks and what I later realized was a tether connecting the rear of his kayak to the front of hers. He was leading her, yes, but also he seemed driven in his way by these small and large things he could do for her, with her.
When we met up that cold day this past winter, I was at a loss for words. She was through the long treatments for this new disease now, I understood. But next? What next? What do you say to a vibrant, amazing person who you care about who has been perhaps sicker than you can wrap your brain around?
One would think that by now I’d have some idea. But I don’t. And so maybe I said I was sorry to hear, that she looked great, and perhaps we talked abstractly about the long winter, our days indoors, whether mine due to biting wind and wimpy children, or hers due to daily or weekly treatments with things that take you from you in order to save you. I walked away wishing I’d said more but not sure what. It stayed with me like a small stone.
And so seeing them walk by tonight was a gift. Actually seeing them every day is a gift. Our children love them, and I’ve always appreciated the way they matter-of-factly welcomed us into their neighborhood and among their people, generously offering a beach chair or kayak, sharing their children and now, grandchildren, trading stories, issuing sage advice.
Seeing them tonight reminded me that seeing them every day has always been a gift, will hopefully, blessedly, continue to be a gift.
And so tonight, my freshly bathed girls banged on the window to no avail as our friends passed. I unlatched the sliders so they could scamper onto the porch and then across the lawn, and onto the road, where the slap slap of footy pajamas alerted the pair to two impending little-girl-sized hugs.
Then my girls and I headed back in and upstairs for bedtime rituals with the rest of our people.
Between flossing and tooth brushing my husband pointed outside at the sun setting in the sky. And in the distance, on the rocky arm that shelters the cove, silhouetted in the brilliant pinky red of the sky, we could see our friends walking towards the edge of the sunset on this precarious spit of rocks and beach grass.
“I wonder how they got there,” my husband said.
“I don’t know. They just kept walking, I guess,” I replied.
We stood and watched this pair, their two silhouettes pulling apart and drifting near, finally melting into one being as they stood close, stark and solid against the brilliance, a single dark form surrounded by a fiery sky so bright, it burned your eyes long after you turned away.