My children’s first year at school together, come and gone. Not much fanfare after all; I brought out some homemade food on the last day of class – simply to be relevant, to impress upon the children there that their time is honored, that we do indeed see them and love them. And yes, I am glad to be there if only for this brief hour. The food in hand: deviled eggs and pretzel sticks, the eggs created in my kitchen only the half hour before. I carry the parcel to a few other classrooms, teachers. My footfalls are weary but I’m glad to ghost about the hall and experience the privacy of my thoughts.
The edifice, the institution, the classroom, is as it always has been now that I’m an adult: a bit dirty, small-minded, housing implausibly-cheerful young citizens and adults paid a wage for honorable work. My throat constricts and my heart thunders with hope, and despair. My children are happy – everyone seems to be! – but I am ambivalent, an experience that will follow me the rest of the day.
And I am distracted. Our grocery reserves are limited to a bit of folding money in my pocket, and we are paid Thursday next. But even this is familiar, an adventure. Only distressing if I decide it is. Instead: it just means on our last school roadtrip I text my husband to send me coupons for take-and-bake pizza; I think of what we have in the fridge, and of when in the next week or so I can reasonably set up something special for the kids. They have, after all, completed a year on their own steam.
Driving home I know the car full of children – four in all – are feeling joy, and sadness, and a since of pulsing life. Even now today’s memories are blooming in their chest, to be touched upon lightly in years to come. Music and singing, the wind through our hair, the sunshine painting the winding road flanking the Wishkah river. They can afford to let the moment come and pass, while it lives wretched and sublime through my body, manifested in my fingers resting on the steering wheel, tapping out a rhythm more cheerful than I feel.
Summer, then. And already my son is half-feral: he has plans to do his banking – he packs his stamped-leather piggy bank in my car and is querulous I don’t make the time to stop at his branch. He tells me he will stay a week at a friends’, someone he hardly knows. His summer tan returns seemingly overnight, his hair lightens from honey into an earnest, bedeviled blonde. He is outside and running the neighborhood as much as we let him; home, he cooks meals at late hours, and tries to take a bowl of soup to eat in his bed, although perhaps I have scolded the children for this kind of thing hundreds of times. He painstakingly arranges his most treasured effects in the many small wooden boxes and metal-clasped receptacles he’s squirreled away over the years. In one such repository: miniature Lego pieces, a geode, a key, foreign currency, fossilized sharks’ teeth, and nondescript rocks imbuing a meaning known only to he. “I wish I could keep your heart inside,” he says – then, with a quick glance lest I misunderstand, amends his statement to mean my soul, my spirit, not my anatomical heart.
He tells me he will forgo school next year – but who can tell? This time last year, we had no hint he’d want to attend, and we wouldn’t have predicted how that would go in any case.
I have a leadership role in my household. This is evident to anyone who knows our family. This is something we four know. Yet in so many ways I am blind and striking out, making way in hostile, confusing terrain so the family can grow into themselves. They thrive in confidence in this shadow, lush and verdant greenery twining in the loamy darkness, growing strong. They fall asleep easily while at night I am prone to anxiety.
And tonight – as evening falls, sitting on our couch with my legs folded underneath my body – I talk with my husband. I speak of the disappointment and sadness I feel to watch so many I know, falter in their spiritual path. I speak of Doubt, which is so much harder for me than Fear. A mirage of illusion. “There are a small number of people I have found to be faithful,” I tell him. “You’re one of those people -” I say, and turn my head strategically for just a beat, to let this pass, before I complete my thought.
I am glad of their faith because, if I cannot always be happy, be sure, they are still the best thing to have come along, to awaken me to something beyond my own machinations and limited understanding.