Every time we go for a walk, Eric and I wonder how many miles our footsteps have carved out. How many times we have walked down our road, looked at the same trees and the same houses. Passed the same mailboxes and kicked the same stones. We walk a lot, passing time, getting exercise, spending time together. In college we once took off in the morning, bare footed, and walked until dusk. We came home with filthy feet and happy hearts. Our walks are our time. Solving, strategizing, dreaming. Last week, we were gifted with a walk in a soft snow fall.
Big snowflakes fell so sweetly from the sky, the kind that are really hundreds of flakes stuck together, like a family. There were no cars on our little dirt road, and for once there was no wind. The flakes floated gently toward the ground their path uniquely their own. We even stuck our tongues out (well, I did) and caught a few. The prick of icy cold marking success. Lulu, our lab walked up in front of us, sniffing, mouthing and investigating as she galloped and leaped through the brush on the side. Happy.
The hunter in her went on point (now mind you, my spoiled, bed sleeping, expensive dog food eating, couch sitting pup is not a hunter) and we giggled, asking her what she saw. A squirrel? A rabbit? No, it was a man. He was walking carefully alongside his yard – a yard and home we admire when we walk by, the yard always mowed precisely, the bushes trimmed meticulously, flowers planted with perfect spacing, yet we have never seen a soul there. I grabbed Lu’s collar, the man looked frail and I didn’t want her to jump in greeting and knock him down.
“Good morning!” Eric called. “Pretty chilly out, isn’t it?”
The old man turned toward us, a vaguely worried look on his face. “Well, yes, it is. I’m looking at these tracks in my yard. I’m wondering if they are a coyote’s? I wouldn’t like them that close to the house.”
“Oh, I’m afraid that was our dog.” Eric answered. “Sorry about that.”
“No problem at’ll. I just really don’t want coyotes around.” our new friend said.
We chatted for awhile, his gentle worried look was settled in his eyes, I noticed. He was all bundled up, going for a walk, he’d said. He tries to get three miles in every day, but his back is starting to bother him. We stood in the road, talking with our neighbor, listening to his stories. When the conversation thinned, we turned to leave. I hadn’t contributed much to the conversation, I had just listened, but I asked his name before we left.
“Bill Butler.” He’d said with an outstretched hand. “I’ve lived here since 1962. Brought my wife out here after we got married, raised our family. And now … now I’m all alone.”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries, wished him a good walk as we set off in opposite directions. “He just wanted some company, you could see it in his face, couldn’t you?” E said.
“My biggest fear.” I answered. I felt as though a puzzle piece had shifted. I always need to write to understand myself and how I’m feeling, and I often feel a nudge from the universe. I feel the energy of the lesson I’m supposed to be learning coming to me when Bill says, “And now … now I’m all alone.” It’s a rapid feeling, one of swooping emotion. Bill Butler, my sweet, little, sad eyed neighbor is my biggest fear. I don’t want to be all alone. And although Cooper leaving for school is not the biggest deal in the world it’s also not inconsequential — it has gravity not only on me, as a momma, but also our family and the arc of our story.
My grandma’s home was a quaint ranch in a stand of pines in Ohio. A roaring fire accompanied laughter and tears as her robust life, raising four children, and welcoming their spouses and grandchildren flourished in its walls. She traveled the world, for sport and leisure, for her children and their families. She was the matriarch of our world, until the family slowly branched off, grew new roots. Until her health declined and her husband died. Until her big life was contained in the walls of a nursing home, her body in a wheel chair. I don’t mean to be melodramatic, or morbid. My grandma had a beautiful, tragic, lovely, long, sad, joyful life. I looked up to her, her strength and her conviction of family. I admired her love of reading and teaching and travel. I try and emulate her kindness and compassion. But in the end, after a lifetime of chaos and busyness, life dwindled. The tasks draw smaller, the moments longer. There is much peace and sweetness in these moments. Peace and sweetness that was earned by a lifetime of living and loving big. It gives me perspective of where I am now, and maybe why this life changing event is so damn hard for me to process. There are days I feel weak, I feel small. People endure so much more, why is this so hard?
I love the chaos and busyness this house has given me. The coming and going, the constant running, the noise and the laughter, the yelling and fighting, the bickering and arguing, the hurt feelings and the forgiveness, the love. All the love. There are days when you feel the hours will never end. Tasks so mundane you fear you may not survive. You change diapers, and fill sippy cups, you read bed time stories, and wash jammies. You prepare dinners and pack lunches, you cuss at the teacher under your breath for math homework you don’t understand. You forget to sign permission slips, and lose library books. You send in a homemade cake to the carnival bake sale, and the next year you buy one at Meijer on the way there. You throw snow balls and have squirt gun fights and you clean up dog poop in the yard and watch rainclouds storm across the sky. You walk and you talk and you ride in the car, you sprinkle life with trips to the beach and the city. You pour cold medicine in cups and sign casts for broken arms. You schlep to doctor’s offices and wince as they get flu shots. You smile when they run to greet you off the bus. And then one day, you realize they are all busy and don’t need a thing and you wonder, you wonder just where it all went.
I have loved climbing the mountain of parenthood, I have loved the drudgery and the work, I have loved the quiet in the middle of the night as I sat with a boy who couldn’t sleep. I am sad, really sad, to see the work begin to end. To see the art of motherhood as I have lived it coming to a slow, thin close. I still have many years. I have a 12 year old after all. (Thank. God.) But the chaos this fall will diminish by one-third (frankly, likely more than that if you know my Coop!) and I see a window into my grandma’s room. I see the arc of our family story descending. I have loved every minute of this ride, and even though a part of it is ending, there is so much to look forward to and enjoy. Loss and change are not easy, but this, this change is beautiful in so many ways.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. My favorite day of the year. I love having the pink and red and sentiments of love to look forward to in the bowels of winter. Over the years I have treated my kids to chocolate breakfasts, treats in their lunches and dinner made with only red foods. We have celebrated in many different ways … this year the boys were all in different directions (work, baseball, lacrosse) so we had dinner out with friends. I made chocolate brownies with heart shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups melted on top for them. Today, I walked one down to Bill’s mailbox. Happy Valentine’s Day! the note said. I hope it makes him smile. I hope he remembers a Valentine’s Day with his wife and his family, snug in their perfect green ranch. I hope he feels my friendship. Perspective is a funny thing, it comes and goes like a tide. I can feel as though “I get it! ” and then I am reminded again that I have drifted away from the prize. Bill gave me perspective again last week. He reminded me that there is an end to this life I love. He reminded me to take my fear and anxiety about what that future will look like and enjoy what is here today. Perspective. <3 Happy Valentine’s Day