4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I woke up to the sound of children this morning*. In fact, we have been waking up to the sound of children for the last week. But the children this week were not just our children, my husband’s and mine. They were also the children of friends staying with us, figuring out how to be in a new house, bunked in sleeping bags and bean bag chairs, cuddled on mattresses next to our children, sharing quilts and snuggles.
These laughing children this morning though were someone else’s children entirely, walking down the street past our house.
Across the hall from my husband and me, our four were still asleep in their bunk beds, the last of their friends having packed up and left yesterday.
And so I pulled my arm out from under my husband’s arm, my leg out from under his leg. I slid to the edge of the bed and put my feet on the floor, slithered off the mattress, tiptoed across the room.
I stealthily snuck down the steps and through the peaceful house. Then I grabbed the paddle board that my husband and I had bought each other for our 10th anniversary, and I headed for the cove.
The water was dead calm this morning in a way it hadn’t been for a while. All week it had been choppy and windy, almost impossible to navigate. There had been mornings I had gotten out into the inlet and then been forced to turn back. One day I had kneeled as I navigated an unpredictably turbulent area near the rocks, another morning I had foregone the paddling altogether.
But this morning, the tide was all the way out, exposing the mud and ocean grass. And the water was like glass.
Yesterday was our anniversary. I remembered because texts kept coming in from family and friends who remember celebrating our wedding fourteen years ago. But yesterday we did very little to celebrate. Too many friends in town, fireworks, late night s’mores and mojitos, early morning shushing of children.
As I paddled, I noticed how clear the water was, how easy it was to see straight through to the bottom. I could even see through the deep water where I’d kneeled just a few days before, down to the treacherous rocks below. I could see now that there were crabs and seaweed and forgotten lobster traps covered in so much ocean-growth that they’d become entirely different creatures.
The lobstermen were out for the first time in days, having finally recovered from their week of blasting fireworks in the cove. They set the traps loosely, leaning against wheelhouses and railings in their orange and yellow waders.
I thought about one of the choppy days when I’d flushed a family of ducks from the rocks. The ducklings scurried across the water, wobbly puffs of gray with legs like spinning wheels below. One duckling had fallen behind his siblings, and my board slid over the water between him and his family.
As I watched, he dove under the water and then popped back up again.
His family continued to skitter away across the water. I felt like I should stay, like I should do something, but what? And so I paddled out of the way hoping that he would chase after his family or that the adult ducks would come back for him.
Then a seagull swooped down, sending the duckling diving again. And when he resurfaced the seagull snatched the duckling from the water and carried him away to the jagged rocks where other seagulls descended.
That morning, I cursed all the way back into the cove. Those horrible parents. What were they thinking? This is such a simple thing. Watch over your ducklings.
This stayed with me for the week. Every time I would sneak out for a paddle, leaving my children plus other people’s children, plus my husband and other people, all back at the house scrounging for cereal or damp bathing suits. Where were the ducklings? Where were the seagulls? It was hard to know.
And yet, in the evenings there were fireside chats and more lobster for my husband and me than even a Massachusetts inmate would find humane. There were walks on the black rocks along the ocean, worried parents beckoning wild children back to us from the places that looked unsafe.
Kids kayaked and stole clams and seltzer from the table, sat on a blanket on the deck eating dinner, hotdogs clutched in dirty fingers.
And the night before our anniversary, there was a friend and her family, along with a beloved neighbor, my husband and my children, all gathered around the fire pit listening to my friend’s husband and his gentle guitar.
As the sky turned black, he played Angel from Montgomery, his sweet six-year-old daughter singing in the most lovely, warbling voice, like a bell or a bird. Her mother’s voice lay underneath, lifting it up, as the rest of our voices filled the quiet space behind, my neighbor, husband, four children and me.
I am an old woman
Named after my mother
My old man is another
Child who’s grown old
If dreams were thunder
And lightning was desire
This old house would’ve burned down
A long time ago
And so today as I slid through the cove I waved to the lobstermen and watched the family of ducklings clustered safely together skitter across the glassy water. And I hummed the song, Angel from Montgomery. My husband was at home alone with the kids, watching over them, making them breakfast, planning the day ahead.
Fourteen years of marriage is all these things then. It is laughing toasts and glasses raised high, fireworks where someone else’s child cuddles into your lap for warmth. It is too many friends and too much lobster and prosecco and mojitos and beer.
It is wickedly lively children scampering through the house at 5 am making you groan under your down comforter, and angel voices singing sweet songs by the fire in the deep dark of night so beautifully, the hairs on your arms stand up and you almost cry. It is the gift we give each other of friends and family, even when it’s a lot, like the lobster, so much, but so rich and sweet.
It is the fear of fierce seagulls, and it is wind and ocean waves so unsettlingly choppy, you turn back exhausted, leaving the awesome challenge to be conquered another day.
But what I cherish most, is that if you are very lucky, fourteen years married is also days like today. It is days so still and calm you can be still, finally, and see the mysterious shadows and incredible beauty in the infinite depths below.
*For the record, it has taken me two full weeks to take this thing I wrote and turn it into a blog post. Two weeks. Happy belated anniversary, us.