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.