Much of raising babies, toddlers and even young elementary kiddos is simply survival. Surviving crying, pooping, puking, ear infections, coughing and croup. Managing day care and nursing and bottles and biting and teething and crawling and sassy toddlers who shriek with independence and shrivel with fear. You try and survive with your marriage in tact and maybe a friendship or two. There were days, probably weeks that grew to months, that I believed that if we made it through the day and no one died it was a success. It’s on those days where I would lay my head in bed at night exhausted from filling sippy cups and changing diapers and watching Bear in the Big Blue House and singing “I see the Moon” 13 times before bed that peace and contentment would find me. The fatigue of the day’s work, mixed with relief from sleeping babies (albeit knowingly temporarily sleeping) was the perfect cocktail. Sure, there were nights when anxiety snuck in (many of them), where I would creep from room to room, measuring a chest rising and falling, listening for sweet inhales and exhales, worry finding me even when it shouldn’t. Bed time often brought me a respite, no matter how short.
In those days, my parents were thriving. Continuing to work, not yet speaking of retirement; not yet regularly visiting doctors. My grandparents were alive, my siblings were marrying, having babies and creating lives. Life seemed open for discussion, but also fixed in a pattern. There was a monotony that rolled through the weeks and months, October one year looked much like the October of the next. The reliability of life gave way on occasion to chaos, but rarely diverted from the long term plan. The long term plan being … to raise my family. To love my boys, watch them grow, enjoy their triumphs and learn from their failures. To love my husband and be together what I always wanted … my tribe of five. Days wound around each other like ribbons on a maypole, in the same rhythm, one similar to the last.
My junior year of high school I sat in swing out – a ceremony my high school held for the underclassman to send off the seniors – as Scott Hector, President of the senior class gave a speech directed toward us. Paraphrased he said, “Just when you think Mrs. Mattson’s biology class is going by so slowly you might die, you will look back and realize the whole year was over in the blink of an eye.” I was never sure why that sentiment stuck with me, why I remembered it so vividly. Now forgive me, my memory may not be all I believe it to be and some details may be wrong (was it really Scott Hector?) but the impact of the words have stayed with me for 28 years. The paradox of time moving slowly, as it speeds by … it keeps coming back to visit me.
I have arrived at middle-age, I supposed a destination I never thought much about. My parents are aging, my dad recently suffered a stroke, my step-mom has had several health issues in the past year and my momma just sold our family home of nearly 40 years. Eric’s parents have been wintering in Arizona for a decade and my kids no longer need sippy cups filled or diapers changed. While I’ve become accustomed to the changes in my kid’s needs, what I didn’t expect and no one talked about, was the change in the structure, the frame of your world when your parents, and the life they created for you, begin to change. We know our children will grow up. We lament how fast it goes, tell our younger counterparts, “Don’t blink. It will be over before you know it.” What I didn’t prepare for was the absence of Home.
This past May marked 21 years that I have lived away from my hometown. I never gave much thought to leaving at the time, my parents both lived there, two of my siblings were still in high school. I was so excited to be marrying my E, and it seemed to be a place I would always be tethered, the view out my momma’s back deck a comforting vision I would never have to surrender. Two or three days after moving from my quiet, quaint Big Rapids to downtown Lansing (I was sure I was living in the hood – I was used to falling asleep being serenaded by the bullfrogs in the pond and the crickets in the yard – not the sound of not-far-off-enough gun shots and highway noise) Eric ran to Meijer to grab a few things and I stayed “home” to continue to unpack. He wasn’t gone 30 minutes; when he walked back into our little, cozy kitchen he was met with a sobbing fiance who was desperately homesick. Everything was unfamiliar, nothing felt right. I was bombarded with changes and I wasn’t handling them well. I didn’t want to go home, I just wanted to feel home.
That feeling of home didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. We brought our first born son home to that house, had our first Christmas, even hosted our first Thanksgiving. We gave a baby shower for dear friends and our dog had 10 puppies in the basement! We walked for miles and miles, canvasing our neighborhood and those next to ours, just starting out meant not a lot of cash, our entertainment had to be cheap. Eventually, it didn’t feel so foreign, eventually I began to feel comfortable. I learned to be accustomed to the sounds of the street, enjoyed the kids who came by to play and knew the nuances of my neighbors. I felt safe … ish. For awhile I was caught somewhere between “homes”. My childhood home still held my memories, and my new home held my heart.
Yesterday I drove three hours round trip to take one more walk around the field behind the house where I grew up. I laid on my back in the nearly empty room that was my bedroom decades ago. I soaked in the energy from the walls and the the breeze (there is always a breeze on Northland Drive). On my walk out back I came across a sunny spot, where the breeze was gentle. My footsteps fell quietly and I looked down to my feet. Right ahead of me, in the freshly mowed path was a baby Queen Anne’s lace blossom. Now, I know they are weeds. But in our family, this weed is special.
My grandmother married the love of her life on July 25, 1945. Family folklore says she carried a bouquet of Queen Anne’s lace that she stopped on the side of the road to pick on the way to the church – which is why she was late to her own wedding (not sure the reason holds water as she was late for any event I ever went to with her ;)). War time weddings meant no money for frills, so she improvised. Queen Anne’s lace it was. My Gram died in 2002, and since then, I seem to find Queen Anne’s lace when I need them, her. Yeah, I know they are a prolific weed and grow on the side of nearly every back road, but there are times that I know she is reminding me. Reminding me she loves me. Reminding me of all she endured in her life. Reminding me that whatever struggles I face will pass. Reminding me to look to my sense of spiritual healing to find solace. In the midst of saying goodbye to my first real Home, she came to me.
I sat down in the grass where the flower grew, I picked it and held it in my hands. I turned my face up toward the sun, preening like a duck on the water. All the sadness of the last year, the challenges the disappointments, the struggles came to my heart at once. Mid-life is not easy, somehow I had thought it would be. Somehow, I had believed that if I could survive the beginning, that life would smooth out, that the work would become easier. With time would come wisdom and with wisdom would come a comfort in my own skin and ease in making hard decisions. While some of that showed itself to be true, in most ways it’s not. I sat in the middle of the field, holding my weed, accepting the message she sent me. Life is hard. Life will always be hard. Life is beautiful and tragic and sad and joyful and peaceful and chaotic … life is always worth living. Not that I ever believed it wasn’t. But the reminder was powerful and I hope it will sustain me.
As I pulled out of my Home for the last time, clicking a quick picture of the SOLD sticker on the real estate sign. The Queen Anne’s lace weed tucked into my console, drying quickly. I turned up the radio and Brad Paisley sang, “There’s a last time for everything”. No kidding. He really did. I couldn’t believe it, I turned it up, opened up that sun roof and sang at the top of my lungs. We don’t always know when that last time will be, and today I am grateful that I knew and could acknowledge leaving my Home for the last time was something. It isn’t everything, it isn’t nothing. But it sure is something.
My gram used to say, “Old age isn’t for sissys.” I am beginning to believe none of it is.