When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find…
It is a dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Five days of school is too much. For anyone, really. Reed only has five day weeks once or twice a month, and that is plenty for us both. By Thursday, after the to and fro of the week, I am so ready for us all to come back together. To have a slow breakfast that lasts nearly until lunch. To take turns singing with Helen while Margot dances. To talk about our favorite Hogwarts teachers instead of who is in the blue group or what Bryce said.
Yesterday I talked with a friend who takes afternoon naps to help her come back together. Today I followed her lead and took a few minutes to shut my eyes while the girls did, and Reed built things on the floor. Of the twenty minutes on the sofa, I maybe slept five minutes, then ran to the oven to take out the roast. But in the end I came back together.
There should always be room for that. Fridays off. Afternoon naps. The days after Christmas when you aren’t going here or there and the presents get put away and you eat normal food and sleep normal sleep and exercise. There should always be room to come back together. And maybe that starts with five minutes’ sleep on the sofa.
I write in the cracks. First thing in the morning, bleary-eyed, laptop in bed. It’s not much and it’s not my best, but it’s what I have to give.
Because right now is all about taking care of business. Finishing my degree. Sorting through our things. Carting load after load to St. Vinny’s. Dropping Reed off at school, picking him up, folding the laundry, soaking the oats, frying the eggs, painting the walls. I get the feeling that I will look back on this late-autumn, and I won’t remember it at all. I hardly see it right now.
Will I remember listing to Serial while going through Reed’s closet, piles here, piles there? Will I remember how Helen and I laughed when we saw that Margot had learned to climb up the ladder to Reed’s bunk bed or getting fried cheese curds with the kids at Wendigo? And, wait, what else happened this last weeks, again?
I don’t know. The pace doesn’t suit me. But life happens in the cracks, and I will keep trying to see it there.
If I remember it honestly, I think that when I look back on this late-autumn season, I will remember watching reruns of The Office on my phone while doing the night’s dishes, plugging away at homework wrapped in blankets on weekend afternoons, checking Bay Area rentals on Craigslist obsessively. That is my life right now. Transitions are like that sometimes.
Even in the cracks.
Reed got a soccer ball for his birthday, and we have gotten in the habit of going out in the evenings- after naps and before dinner, going out to the middle school and kicking around the soccer ball.
I never bring my camera, but it is one of the things I want to remember most. I want to remember the low sun, the autumn jackets, the way a ball has of making things interesting, the boys standing up by the school, waiting to be picked up from wresting practice.
Now Margot is sitting in a box on the living room floor, things pell-mell around her from the pre-move decluttering that has been a constant (and a kind of pleasure) this last week. The walls are freshly painted. I am going to make dinner.
But the thing I want to remember most is going out and kicking around a soccer ball. And Helen kicking the big green frog ball with her little legs and Margot running around and laughing and that good low sun and autumn air.
Venice, January ’14
When I visited California last winter, I had no idea we would be moving there. Nor did I know it two weeks ago when Adam was flying out to Silicon Valley to interview for a job we both assumed he wouldn’t take. We had other plans. Good ones.
I didn’t know we would be moving to California until after the interview, when I heard the sound of Adam’s voice on the phone. Until I stayed up half the night naming all the reasons not to go (cheddar and apples, coming in and warming up, Silicon Valley). Until I woke up the next morning wanting it anyway. Wanting it completely. And feeling good. A little scared, but really good.
In the next couple of months, we will be sorting through our things, painting our walls, selling our house. We will be emptying, arranging, flying.
Meanwhile, I am finishing my semester. Making meals, writing books, putting the dishes away. Dropping Reed off at school. Kicking around a soccer ball. Changing Margot’s diapers. Putting up Helen’s hair.
We are moving to California. It will be a little scary. But mostly, I think it will be really, really good.
The October rains have come. There is the usual necessary work to be done (the schoolwork, the dishes, the doctor’s appointments and general child-maintenance) and some larger changes underfoot in our household that keep us up, talking and planning. My writing gets tucked in at nap-time or before bed with the last dregs of the day. The housework, characteristically, falls behind. I never cared much about laundry, anyway.
The October rains have come. And I think I will put some apples in the oven to eat, hot, with dinner. When the rains go, we will have that best slice of autumn, that cool and sunny slice with all the colors.
But for now the rain is here, and it is warm outside the house and in.
When she exasperates him, Reed calls her “Baby.” As in, “No! Baby! Don’t do that! You’re ruining it!” But she isn’t really a baby, anymore, least of all in her own mind.
She is probably the most independent of all my children and resents that independence being breached. When she won’t leave Reed’s classroom of her own accord, I pick her up and remove her, and she screams. A good, loud scream. When I put her a cart or stroller against her will rather than letting her walk along in her own way, she struggles and cries. It’s a daily friction, and not one I particularly like.
When it comes down to it, though I do respect her for it. And I am learning to make room for her strong little will. I am learning to leave early and let her walk around, sometimes in the wrong direction. I am learning to let her be a part of things. It’s as good for me as it is for her.
I think Margot is happiest when she is with people she knows and loves making them laugh. She likes Duplo and Kapla blocks and building and planning and interfering with her brother’s things. She likes milk and bread and tomatoes. She likes music. She likes movement and being a part of things, and she likes to talk insofar as she can.
That’s Margot, now. That’s some of her.
The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.
There was the old Disney Wind and the Willows tape I would watch at my Grammie’s house, always nestled close to the television until someone would tell me to move back, I was ruining my eyes. But I never read the story and only brought the audiobook home last week on a whim. Now I can’t listen to it without smiling and feeling that good belly-hunger you get when you are reading something really wonderful.
That belly-hunger for the hot sun “pulling everything green and bushy and spiky up out of the earth towards him, as if by strings.” For “toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in it in great golden drops, like honey.” For more of Toad and Mole and dear Ratty. And Badger, who “never said ‘I told you so,’ or, ‘Just what I always said,’ or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else.”
We drop Reed off at school, and then we keep walking. A month ago, we might take the shady side of the street, but not anymore. The warm sun won’t last long. We take all we can get.
September is the most beautiful month. The food is the best, and the clothes, and you don’t have to mow the lawn much or worry over seedlings or shoveling snow. The cool air makes you hungry, and I love being hungry.
September is the most beautiful month, but as much as I like it, I also don’t at all. It is like a beautiful, interesting person whose company- for some, unknown reason- you can’t stand.
Ah, well. I don’t feel at home in September, but I am still glad it’s here. I’m glad to live in the world and watch the months come in and out and eat apples and brussel sprouts and walk on the sunny side of the street. I am glad the sun is still warm and I can keep walking and walking and point to the bits of yellow on the trees and say, Look, Helen! It’s autumn!.