What I Want my Kids to Remember

IMG_20170404_092229_495Outside my office windows, I’m starting to hear a sound I haven’t heard in months. Birds of all sizes and songs are migrating back north, stopping by our hobby farm in the St. Croix river valley and nestling themselves into the dense green of the arborvitae and the budding branches of the maples. They trill and chatter, and somehow, my soul relaxes, reassured that spring is approaching.

It’s not particularly trendy to love spring. People are not making stylized memes or posts about sloppy shoes and brown grass and endless piles of damp, dirty-kneed laundry the way they do about fall and marshmallows and bonfires.

Maybe that’s because new life doesn’t start clean and dry and wrapped in buffalo plaid. New life is wet, dirty. Babies emerge from their mothers covered in a primordial mixture of blood and water. Seeds break out of their shells and push themselves through dirt and mud in order to find the sun.

Life requires mess.

This past week we had an incredible opportunity to welcome a film crew to our farmhouse for a project. However, in order to prep for filming, there was a lot of cleaning to be done. I mean A LOT. Thankfully I had help, and come go-time, the house was glowing (and basically unrecognizable in it’s oil-soaped, shining-floored glory).

It has now been precisely four days since that clean house, and aside from the layers of fingerprints which haven’t had enough time to accumulate on the windows and cupboards, you’d never guess how pristine it was in here just a few days ago.

There’s dirt all over the entry way rug, and apple cores that made their way to the counter, but not quite the garbage can. The fireplace room is littered with crayons and paper and My Little Ponies, and the ladybugs have reinstated their domain in the window sills.

And even though I want to cringe, I know all of this is inevitable with four small children, a few acres, and the abundance of nature around us.

What matters is where I choose to look.

The dirty floor, or the open window?

The dishes in the sink, or the tangle of sweet girls and coloring books spread across the kitchen floor?

Saturday night, I was about to put the baby to bed when I noticed the rest of the family sitting on the front steps, watching robins and chickadees hop and flutter across the yard.

I was bone-tired, ready to shove the rest of the dishes into the sink, and fall asleep to the whir of the mixers on the Great British Baking Show. (Griff is still not sleeping through the night, and wakes up anywhere from one to five times per night, depending on…well…who knows.)

I was a single track mind, my brain flashing like neon: bedtime, bedtime, bedtime.

I wanted to look at my pillow. My eyelids.

Suddenly, our eldest daughter shrieked and pointed to a giant shape swooping out of the pine stand across the road. It landed on a corner fence post and settled, statue-like, about a football field’s length away from us. I assumed it was a hawk, but as we watched, he turned his head and leveled us with the unmistakable gaze of a barred owl.

Jason quietly went into the house and came back with the binoculars, and we all took turns watching the owl. And I can’t explain it, other than to say that the whole event was a gift.

A gift I could have missed if I had been looking elsewhere, like the task at hand.

When I was little, my parents and brother and I used to go over to our grandparent’s farm in the twilight of  summer evenings. My grandpa would have the metal folding lawn chairs ready, the kind with orange, yellow and white woven patterns that would poke your legs where the plastic fabric frayed, all set up in a line facing the north grove.

And then we’d do something unthinkable by today’s standards. We’d all just sit quietly together. No phones, no devices save for my dad’s 35mm Pentax. I’d settle into my grandma’s lap, absentmindedly rubbing the soft, wrinkled skin of her hand, and watch a family of owls emerge from the trees and settle on the clothesline posts, hunting for mice.

Their low, silken hoots echoed from tree to tree as they talked in stereo around us. Darkness would slowly fall on the yard, imperceptible at first until we felt our skin cool and shudder. It was normal for night to arrive without our noticing.

Was it inconvenient for my parents to keep us up past summer twilight, which was probably a good two hours past our regular bedtime? I’m sure. Were my brother and I tired and whiny that night, complaining our way into bed? For certain. Could my mom have stayed behind and had the house to herself to clean, rest, relax on her own? Of course.

But none of those things were as important as making time to watch the owls together.

I don’t know what my little ones will remember from their childhood, but I have the feeling it won’t be how on time they were for bed, or whether or not I picked up the house every night.

Hopefully, they remember owls.

 

 

 

 

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The House that Love Built

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This is the house. This is the house that love built. Love with all its empty Kleenex boxes and sticky door handles. Love with its scratched table and worn chairs and smudgy windows.  Love with half of a gallon of milk left in the refrigerator and no clean sippee cups.

This is the house for a mama and daddy and three small girls, and even if the arrangement of that shifts from time to time, it is still their home. The wooden floors carry the prints of their toes. The banister bears layer after layer of fingerprinting. The house itself is a failed crime scene – DNA everywhere. Everyone is to blame.

Everyone in this house blames love, and then rolls over laughing. There may be shouting one moment, and hugs the next. Love is a messy creature here, a golden retriever wet with rain, shake, shake, shaking, and the rain becomes blessing and falls like holy water over the whole of the works.

Nothing works in this house. The attempts at air-conditioning, for one. Order, for two. The silverware drawer latch for three. Someday it will all come crashing down, hot and humid, forks and spoons and knives everywhere, silver strewn across the black and white patchwork linoleum, and we will curse under our breath for sake of the girls and warn them, sternly, not to yank on the drawers. Again.

Again happens a lot. This is something we’re still getting used to. Parenting. Over. And Over. The same lessons patiently coming out of our mouths, slightly bitter after months of repetition. Be polite. But not just to be polite. Be kind. Respectful. Respectful means to listen with love. Start with listening. Please.

The littlest ones still say please without the p. Eeease. Eeease. Mulk, eeeese. We smile to ourselves, starting the game all over again. It’s important to be polite. Say please. Just. Say. Please. It’s hard to admit it feels rote.

But rote is routine, and routine is the lifeblood of this house. Routine is safe and healthy and puts everyone quietly in their beds by eight o’clock pm. Routine allows us to clean the kitchen one more time for the day, nesting the pans, wiping the counters. Routine is space, precious small though it may be.

Even routine startles at the computer when little feet shuffle down the stairs, blinking in the dark of the house. It holds loose hands with the four-year-old, ushering her to the bathroom, then carrying her back upstairs, a summer blonde head heavy on the collarbone.

All of this could feel heavy. The imperfect house, the rearranged parents, the sleepless child. Some toy hard and sharp underfoot. Something we kick away because it doesn’t belong in our path. Goodnight, nuisance.

Goodnight. Good morning. Move on. Move on because heaviness is something we are accustomed to, and weight is just something else in our arms. All of these hearts to carry. All of this love.