4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
My fin fell off my paddleboard. There was a gentle breeze, an overcast sky, and right next to the rock where the cormorants pose, I dug my paddle in the water to turn my board into the inlet and felt it spin in place.
I switched sides with my paddling and the rotation reversed. I was at a loss.
I had a Plan. I had Goals. I was planning to paddle all the way around the island.
And now I was rudderless, finless, turning lazy circles in front of the bemused cormorants. I spent 25 minutes slowly spinning around the cove in search of my fin in the shallows. From the sky I must have looked like a white and red pinwheel with a Momkini striped center.
It wasn’t at all as I’d pictured.
By the time I’d lugged my finless board back to the house I was positively dejected.
“Mama’s home! You went around so fast!”
“The fin… (sniff)… fell off my board.”
It was all I could do not to cry and all my husband could do to keep from laughing.
The board had been a tenth anniversary gift to each other three years before. Until we’d realized that I positively love walking on water and my husband’s broad shoulders turned him into an ungainly windsurfer. Then it became a gift for me.
“Action plan, Jen,” he insisted.
And off I went to the L.L.Bean in Freeport, Maine. And apropos of the state mascot, it became a Give-a-Moose-a-Muffin Day.
I wanted to paddle around the island, but I needed a new fin. So I went to Freeport, but there was a parade blocking the street. So we stayed on the other side of the street and bought flip flops and first day of school dresses at the Children’s Place Outlet. When we finally crossed the street (after the kids on John Deere tractors and the old lady kazoo and banjo band riding on a flatbed truck had gone by), we realized there was a fish tank filled with trout we had to see at the far end of the L.L.Bean complex, then everyone had to use the bathrooms on the opposite end of L.L.Bean. On the way home we needed to stop at the grocery store and I ran over the back of my daughter’s heel with the cart. The screams echoing through the dairy aisle were a metaphor for my soul.
When we got home it was time for the island 4th of July Ice Cream Social. Then my husband and the kids went fishing off those rocks where the cormorants had witnessed my downfall, while I prepared dinner on the deck. Later that night we stood together in pajamas and watched the fireworks set off across the cove by drunk lobsterman and other friends and neighbors.
The next morning we trudged onward, planning a picnic. We packed chicken salad and broccoli and a couple of beers and somewhere in the middle of all that, I checked my phone to see a text message from my sister wishing us a happy 13th wedding anniversary. I laughed out loud.
We’d entirely forgotten our 13th anniversary.
And so I grabbed the small gifts I’d gotten my husband weeks before and tucked them in the bottom of our picnic bag: an antique boot-shaped door knocker for his studio and a pair of small red metal hearts.
On the rocky beach on the opposite side of the island the kids played in the crashing surf while my husband fished. We collected scraps of lobster trap for his paintings and had a contest stacking rocks with promised s’mores as prizes for originality, height, and most rocks used.
These were the same towers we’d built on another windswept beach on our fourth anniversary, the summer we’d come to terms with never getting pregnant, with being each other’s everything in the face of infertility. It had been a fog-enclosed vacation, a week in a gorgeous house on a bluff, where the roar of this other ocean had been constant in our ears, but all we ever saw was the thick white fog that had settled around us both like an ocean-scented quilt.
Eight years later, on a different ocean we were watching our kids pile their rocks.
Unpacking dinner, my husband grabbed the bag of gifts hidden under the thermos of mojitos, sippy cups of milk and bin of broccoli.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Happy anniversary!” I said, pretending I’d remembered all along.
And we laughed at having forgotten our anniversary. Later still, we returned to the house for a quiet family evening around the firepit with s’mores.
And just as we were beginning to toast the marshmallows, friends showed up with a bottle of wine and a child desperate to play. Then the neighbor’s grandkids and friends’ kids came over and like a pack of coyotes, twelve children scrambled through the joined yards chasing each other in the dusk.
Some of their people came up to our fire to get away from the kids and some of our people went down to their yard for the cornhole and the sausages.
Someone suddenly hollered, “You all are missin’ the sunset!”
And everyone paused and glanced up for a moment to see the sun disappear behind the cormorants at the entrance to the cove.
Then back to our friends and laughter, bean bag throwing and baby carrying. The boys tore down the girls’ fort and the girls chased them through the yard. The kids acquired band aids and Popsicles, the adults toasted with wine or beer or whatever the day required.
Thirteen years married is this. It is a finless paddleboard, it is a Give a Moose a Muffin day, it is an Action Plan and a pile of rocks built in the face of infertility, socked in by fog, or on a sunlit beach by a quartet of tow-headed kids. It is fireworks some days, catching no fish on others. It is planning a quiet family evening but instead finding yourself amidst a pack of children lit gold by the setting sun accompanied by the sounds of a ringer sinking a three-pointer in the cornhole game.
It is love, laughter, and friendship, and a pair of hearts held in the hands.
It was a forgotten anniversary, yes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
(And by the way, I did eventually paddle the whole island, and it only took me two hours. Well, two days, a trip to L.L. Bean, thirteen years, and two glorious, peaceful hours.)
P.S. My husband surprised me with tickets to see U2 next week for our anniversary. Who said romance is dead?