Early September

When I arrived home from the lake this year, I noticed how loud it is at our house.

On the shores of Lake Simcoe, where we pick up the Augusts of my past 36 summers each year, there is no sound in the night except the occasional waves lapping against the soft, sandy shore. A motorboat might happen by and on the weekend there might be the occasional party on the lake, but on a quiet, weekday evening there is almost nothing to hear. I walk across the common, the cold dew having already fallen and chilly on my feet, and there is almost the sound of the breath of the earth. The stars shine in the enormous black sky, and the lake looks like a black mirror stretching out to the nearly invisible horizon.

Here, the first thing I noticed when I came home was the chorus of wild things. Crickets, frogs, and other creatures create a constant din that surrounds our home when night falls. That, combined with the river, which can babble or roar depending on rainfall, make a stream of white noise that almost drown out the occasional passing car. Our windows are always open wide to the night. The cat sits on the sill, watching the moths that play with the escaping light. Upstairs, the children, all four of them, are asleep.

This September marks a change for me. After almost a year and a half of being with children almost all the time, I have finally gotten my two younger girls on the same napping schedule. At noontime each day, I tuck each of them into bed and I come downstairs to a house that is quiet. That time is very different from the quiet time that I have now, when it is dark. During the day the rooms are brilliant with sunlight, spilling over with energy and I have to go, go, go. Of late my favorite pastime which absolutely qualifies as useful, housewifely work is just tidying. the. place. up. No matter how long the girls sleep for, if this is my chosen task, I use the whole nap time to do it. The whirlwind of destruction-- or actually, I should call it misplacement, as in placing items in places where they don't belong-- that happens each day in my home with the four children all going at full tilt is just astounding. So, for an hour, or half an hour, or today almost two, I attempt to return things to the places where they are supposed to be. I never finish, but I have been able to look around every evening since school started ten days ago and feel almost relaxed in a home where I can see the tops of tables and the rugs are visible (albeit not vacuumed). Physical order (or somewhat order) somehow makes me feel more calm in general. I know this about myself.

The girls are happy little dumplings. They play together now. It's just absolutely breathtaking. Maeve is walking, running, climbing, laughing, talking. She's a small girl. She's still my baby, but she's a force to be reckoned with. She's up on rocking chairs, clinging to the back and rocking full force. Fiona is laughing, egging her on. She's sneaking out the door to pick green tomatoes. She's over by the chicken coop, methodically opening and closing the bottom latch, wondering why she can't open the door (there are two latches). She's emptying out the plastic recycling bin for the 25th time that day, stacking yogurt containers and hiding small shoes in other plastic places.
Fiona, meanwhile, might be setting up a school. Or making a nice, wide bed out of blankets on the floor that might hold all 17 baby dolls. Then she'll call Maeve, leading her gently by the hand, and try to reel her into her play. She's too much a baby herself to understand that Maeve can only maintain the drama for less than 60 seconds. But she does, Maeve does, she'll lie down cooperatively on the blanket next to the dolls, then rise and cradle one of them and load her into the stroller. Fiona, at two and a half, is so flexible in her play that this works for her. They're off. I'm watching them, amazed. Two little sisters, playing together.

In these days when Liam and Aoife are in school I almost feel I'm beginning to relive my life with two children, like I did in the old days with the two of them when they were little. I'm visiting, or planning to visit, the same places we enjoyed four or five years ago. I know where to go, what to do. I've done this before. What a gift to be able to do it again. And as I look at them, two little girls, I can't help but wonder whether this would have been my story, if Charlotte had lived and I hadn't been gifted my bonus boy. Would she have been followed, two plus years later, by some other daughter, a phantom that never existed because of her loss? It gives me goosebumps to imagine that there is an entire family of children that might have followed her. Goosebumps to imagine who they might have been, and also to think of the fantastic, tremendous flip side of my dead-awful luck: these four magnificent people with whom I now share my life. Just amazing.

This afternoon we visited "Big Bend" in the river again. I "dove" into the swimming hole, feeling the bracing cold of the river water as Aoife and Fiona squatted in the soft mud examining the raccoon tracks we had discovered and Greg (holding Maeve) and Liam hurled rocks at a rotted tree trunk on the riverbank. It was a glorious end to the week.


Tonight, we gathered around the same table. The smell of fresh-cut grass was in the air. Homemade roasted tomato sauce topped our pasta, with fresh, local, sweet italian sausage and basil from the garden. The wine was poured.
Fiona would not stop bawling. She cried and cried. We left the table, we came back. Maeve threw the bowl of pasta. She cried. I threw both girls under my arms and went inside. My wine and pasta were untouched. The girls both fell asleep without eating supper, they were so tired.
Going back outside, Liam and Aoife were in the middle of bickering when I returned to the table. I screamed at them. The neighbors heard. I shoveled in my pasta, drank my wine, and was glad I had ruminated on the beauty of last night, because otherwise I might have cried.


The Crew

A beautiful start to September

Today ended like a long, slow exhale. I wonder if I should even write the words, because it almost seemed too good to be true.
It ended with the six of us sitting around our glass topped table, under the big green umbrella, out in the backyard. While Greg grilled, I had set the table while Liam played with Maeve on the back lawn and Fiona and Aoife perfected a pillow fort in the living room. We joined at the table and it wasn't until we were all eating ice cream for dessert that I realized how beautiful it was. Here we were, six of us, including the two year old and the one year old, and we were all still sitting here. We had all eaten our meals. I hadn't gotten up from the table even once. Nobody had cried to get down or asked to be excused while somebody else was still eating. We had all just enjoyed the meal together, and we still were. It was like we were... we were... six people eating dinner together.
This might not seem like a remarkable accomplishment. Clearly I am a person with a strong sense of family and one might assume a family dinner is part and parcel of this package. We do sit down, the six of us, every single night. This means five o'clock meals for Greg and I, but we're happy with this arrangement. We envision pleasant conversation, laughter, and good food... but you know the rest. Somebody isn't happy with the meal. Maeve starts to dump rice on the rug. Aoife needs to go to the bathroom. Somehow, it seems every meal unravels in some way so that we're almost never six people all eating and talking, as we imagine we might do.
But tonight, we did. It felt almost like a first, although it might not have been. The beauty of sitting there for so long, so pleasantly together, under the sunset-lit pines, needed to be captured.

And, rewinding, it seemed especially beautiful because we ventured out for the second time this afternoon to a new place we discovered that we call "Big Bend". It's a little further down the river that's behind our house. The river makes a huge curve and we discovered a big, deep soaking spot that comes past my waist and is wide enough to actually SWIM. The river is riddled with gigantic, glacial boulders and only 15 or so feet downstream from the soaking pool are all these pebbled islands that are perfect for the little girls to perch upon and throw rocks into the river--only six inches deep at that point. All around us in the river the boulders are covered with deep, green moss above the high-water mark and the land rises steeply-- and I mean so steeply that one couldn't possibly walk up it-- on the east bank where the old hemlocks are all that anchors the earth to the rock. It is so impossibly beautiful and I still can't wrap my head around the fact that my little children have this as their own backyard, their childhood, this beautiful gift we have given them.

Remind me, at all costs, I must never move.

My kids didn't fight once this afternoon, they cared for each other and played beautifully and it was magical. (and imagine that I choose this day to write... it paints a lovely picture, doesn't it?)

This day I chose to capture here because I can look back and remember, on the days where more squash ends up on the walls than in their mouths, where there is yelling and crying and despair, that there are days like this where the sun shines and there is beauty in everything.