4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
I was picking up our share at the local farm today. It’s been a long week with a boil water ban due to a water main break. It was strange in our suburban world to be so closely connected to something as fundamental as where water comes from, and how and if it can be used to safely wash our food. We don’t think about the root of things much, or at least I don’t.
But finally the ban was over and I was able to head to the farm stand and get our vegetables for the week. I walked out to the fields alone to pick my half pint of cherry tomatoes.
It still feels awkward and a little empty not having my children by my side to pick with me. For years it was me surrounded by them pulling on me, pushing me, and now I find myself off balance. I miss them pulling clandestine tomatoes from the vines to eat and complaining about the heat or the dirt or their siblings. I think I may had depended on their weight to keep me steady.
And the weather has suddenly turned cold, 55° when it was almost 90° last week. I pulled my cardigan tighter around me, listened to a favorite naughty girlfriend-y podcast, and tried to get used to being with myself, quiet in my own thoughts.
When I headed back into the stand to pick up my beets, lettuce, and peppers, I unplugged my earphones. It was unusually crowded, with a group of adults milling about, clumped awkwardly in front of the chalkboard signs. One adult was clearly in the lead, and she turned to the people with her and explained what the sign meant, how to weigh the produce, what was in our share this week. Someone sneezed and as I said God bless you the leader reminded him to cover his nose when he sneezes.
They were from a group home for people with intellectual disabilities or a work place for people with developmental delays. I smiled and nodded to the people crowding around her, said excuse me when I needed to sneak through and pick out my lettuce.
One tall, gray-haired man stepped up close to me and tapped me on the shoulder and made a spooky Halloween growling noise with witch fingers curled in front of him.
“Is that your spooky Halloween noise?” I asked. He nodded, smiling. “That’s a good one,” I said and he gave me a huge grin.
Then a young woman caught my eye and we both introduced ourselves to each other at the same time, my knobby hand briskly shaking her incredibly soft, gentle one. She told me that she was with this group and that she likes coming to the farm stand. She asked me what CSA meant, and I looked to the farmstand manager to clarify that it means community supported agriculture, which I tried to explain, although I fear it may have gotten lost in translation. She told me about the work they do which I didn’t quite understand but it had something to do with shredding things and microwaves.
She said it was easy because they couldn’t handle doing harder things. I told her that I stayed at home and took care of my kids and my house and people thought that was easy, too.
She told me she had two nephews ages six and eight and that she knew taking care of kids wasn’t easy at all. I told her then maybe what she does isn’t all that easy for everyone either, which she seemed to consider for a moment. Then I told her my children were six, seven, seven and nine. She counted in her head for a moment and then triumphantly said that she was one of four children too, and I said I was one of five.
Right about then it was time for me to leave and they were finishing up their shopping, so I shook her hand again, said goodbye and then turned to gather my bags of produce. I smiled all the way out of the farm stand for having met such a sweet, shining character.
And then when I stepped out into the sun of the parking lot I was hit with a bone quivering wave of sorrow, and I started to cry.
I just miss my brother, I kept saying to myself. I just miss him. I miss him. I miss knowing he is out there. I miss being able to picture him. He would have hated coming to a farm stand and that young woman would have thought he was stupid or silly or both for never using words and always stealing things and pulling everyone’s hair and screaming all the time.
So maybe I was grieving both for the way things never were, for my brother never having been able to shop at a farm stand on a beautiful fall morning. Or maybe I was crying at the reality that I would never see my brother again, that in his death four years ago, I’d lost him altogether. But still, this sweet group and their morning at the farm stand had reminded me of a parallel universe in which I used to live.
I thought about how my children know each other so well and love each other in their own combative way. And how that always reminds me of when I was a child and had my siblings around me, such a huge part of who I was, especially my brother who seemed always to be a presence, always a part of the things I associate with the comfort and safety of home, his noises and needs and scent.
I remember knowing and loving my brother when I was their age in a way that is deeply visceral, a protective tugging in my chest.
I was talking to a friend of mine recently dealing with the loss of a parent. I told her about this thing that I read, something someone posted on Facebook, an answer a grandfather had written explaining death and grieving. He said that it is like we are in an ocean storm and the storm is horrible and that grief is everywhere and that it crashes against us smashing everything we know.
Grief pours down on us and we are mired in a grief so deep we cannot believe we will be through the grief. When the storm passes there are the after waves and we are swallowed whole in their depths and then we rise up to the surface and see the light again. And this continues on, the bright moments eventually outweighing the occasional wave of grief that pours over us, the waves ebbing away almost completely over time.
But still, there are occasional rogue waves.
I was blindsided by that wave of grief today. It has been sneaking up on me I think, with the changing of the weather, and the vulnerability that happens when I send my kids back to school, when I suddenly have more time to myself to think and consider as I go about my daily chores.
I miss my brother. I miss the quiet thrum of his internal light, a light that had gotten dimmer over the years because distance from people does that, but more because the pain and illness of living had done that to him.
The wave has mostly passed, and I can sit and write this. I can’t help but think for a moment that I am grateful to have found that grief again, even if it was at the farm stand in the crystal, clear September morning light. Because I am reminded that he was. My brother Butchie once was. And his light shone brightly, to me anyway, to my family, hopefully to my children when I tell them stories about him, and maybe now to you.
And I was reminded that I carry his light with me in the place I carry my children’s infant hands on me, the smell of seasons changing, lost things that define who I am, love.