Discovery, selfish

On snow days in Vermont and Iowa, I bundled the kids up in snowsuits. We went outside and made forts together. When we were too cold to stay out any longer, we came inside and I made funnel cakes and hot chocolate. Sometimes I made the hot chocolate pudding recipe I grew up with from the Amish cook book. Sometimes I made them pancakes with chocolate chips or even better all the different kinds of chips. Sometimes they were supposed to be at school, but since I grew up in Virginia, I’d call the snow day myself, especially if it was very deep, deep enough for igloos.

Remember when the house was full of children’s voices? They laughed from every room and then they fought and cried or screamed in anger at the other. In one room was a child with all her dolls set out in a great war with territories and colonies in other rooms. One child was sitting at the desk with the computer, the big old clunky kind, playing littlest pet shops or Jump Start First Grade. Another child had friends over and they’d pulled the couchins off the couch and were playing Keep Away from Lava. I would be in the kitchen cooking up spaghetti, plain, no sauce, only butter and parmesan. But for the littlest one, just a tiny bit of soy sauce. The sounds of children marched, rang, sang, wailed, danced, all day long–in and out of rooms, in and out of doors. The hours were full of the sounds of children learning, fighting, laughing, and growing.

The apple trees were for “Tornado Watchers” when the kids and their friends would climb up to a perch and wait for the train to pass by the house, roaring. All the children, my three and any other neighborhood kids would scream, “Tornado!”

The back deck of our first house in Iowa, a blue and purple Victorian house surrounded by lilac bushes. I would set up the kiddie pool and fill it with warm water from the kitchen sink–pots and pots of warm water dumped into the pool so my toddlers and babies could sit and splash. The lilacs smelled so beautiful in spring, the smell drifting through the windows while the children napped in the big beds. I would look at them sleeping in total and complete awe. Just awestruck, dumbstruck by the light they gave off. They were so beautiful. Even though the day was nonstop moving, talking, listening, exchanging, sharing, reworking, diapers, meals, snacks, juice cups, bottles, minor disasters of water sloshing out of the tub and flooding the floor, or a bin of legos dragged and upturned and spilled with a crash all over the kitchen linoleum, the pain everytime I stepped on a piece in bare feet, I felt a huge well of joy because they existed and I loved them. All of the wild never-ceasing energy, suddely so quiet at nap time, just the breeze blowing in the windows, billowing the lace curtains, and there they were, wonderfully perfectly made.

I was taught to give and to please. I was a woman, a wife, a mother, who set up a dozen pails and bowls of varying sizes to play in the sand pit I made in the back yard. They could scoop water and make lakes and rivers. If it was sunny and not too hot, those perfect Iowa days that fooled us into staying, forgetting the winter, we were busy all day outside. We’d play in the pool in the backyard. The kids would set up an inflatable one under the swing set and leap into it until it was busted flat. Or they’d pull one under the slide and use it that way. Or we’d go to the park, which park? the one across the street? the one by the school? there’s a cool one in the next town over! or we’d go for nature walks, days at the river, days at the lake, picnics, hikes, birdwatching, animal tracking.

I cooked from the Mennonite community cookbook, the Amish cookbook, the Southern cookbook. Chocolate cake, coca cola cake, biscuits, homemade donuts sprinkled with powder sugar for breakfast, Peanut butter-honey-powdered milk balls from the River Brethren cookbook. Apple fritters. I cooked, we cooked. Spread out all the measuring cups, let them stir the batter or the jam. We made strawberry jam from the Little House Cookbook. Or let’s make Daddy dinner. We’d have meals around the table, set with decorations the children made. I would set them at the table in the afternoon and tell them to draw something or make something we could put on the table. While I cooked roast chicken, mashed potatoes, whatever I decided that day or had planned that week. I made the kids’ playdough and sometimes they would make sculptures, a dragon, or a dog to show Daddy when he came home from work.

It was all work, work work. Dad gone doing his work, and me, home cooking, cleaning, all the stereotypical things. I made granola. I cleaned up spoiled milk from the back of the car. caring for their little bodies that grew and grew.

The thought of leaving them filled me with terror. The idea of doing anything other than everything, giving every ounce of energy I had to them, it was like a wash of dread to imagine ever walking away. I read that the word or concept for Hell in the Qur’an means “a woman bereft of her child” and the sound of the word or words makes the sound of terrible mourning. That’s what it felt like to imagine anything hurting them , anyone taking them, any kind of separation.

My inlaws said I shouldn’t work outside the home. My parents said I shouldn’t. My husband was worn out and tired and stressed from his day at work. I gave and gave and gave everything I had within me. If I couldn’t leave–I would make it beautiful. I would give all I had. I never hit them or called them names. I knew they would grow up and leave, and that was OK because I was so excited to imagine where they might go. It could be anywhere–I didn’t care. I would love them no matter what. They didnt have to be geniuses or special or gifted or successful. I just wanted them to be fully themselves and I still do want that. But I miss them. I do miss them so much.