Jason was working late, on the heels of a restless night and an unusually busy morning. By mid-afternoon, I was exhausted. I set Simone up on the couch with a blanket and turned on the television. I wrapped James onto my back, paced until he fell asleep, and stood at the counter making a list of the month’s dye orders.
Suddenly, I realized that aside from the sounds of Arthur coming from the family room, the house was quiet. I took a peek. Simone was huddled into the folds of the special zoo quilt, her head on the sofa’s armrest, eyes closed. Napping. My preschooler hasn’t taken daily naps since she was a year old, and has hardly napped at all since she was two. I wasn’t about to wake her up.
I realized that I needed to start dinner: a butternut squash and caramelized onion galette from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. I made the galette dough and prepared the squash for roasting. James woke up and I unwrapped him so he could play on the floor. He was quiet and happy while I sliced onions and put them in a pan to caramelize. The kitchen smelled of butter and cooking onions. Outside, a schoolbus stopped and children departed. I could hear their muted shouts, the soft rumble of the bus departing.
On the weekends sometimes, we stay with my husband’s parents. They live on a sizable portion of land, and it’s so quiet that when a car speeds past on the highway, we all turn our heads. On those visits, we leave our laptops behind. We sit on the couch and rest. We let my husband’s mom serve us tea and snacks. We read. We take walks around the lake. And I always wind up telling Jason that I want to move out to the country.
But it suddenly occurred to me, as I cooked dinner in a quiet house, that it wasn’t living in the country I wanted. It was peace. And I can make it myself, simply by closing the computer. The children won’t always nap, of course. I won’t always enjoy cooking dinner. But striving to be fully present? I can do that.
I am sitting in my living room with James asleep on my back. Simone is playing on the rug with her Duplos, building a “bunny cage.” The coffee table plays host to a hardbound book of fairy tales, a hot cup of sweet milky tea, and a knitted gnome. The front windows are adorned with paper chain garlands, in fall colors. Outside, our maple tree blazes orange and red above the rustic wooden birdhouse Simone built with her grandfather.
These are the things and moments I want to hold onto.
Since I was a little girl I have kept a journal. (Jason loves to tease me about the page from one I kept when I was seven, which says simply “I LOVE CATS!!!!!!!!” amidst a flurry of kitten stickers). I use them as free therapy and as a record of my days and life. I write down sweet things my children say, what the weather’s like, that I cooked a particularly delicious stew, wise words from my Nana’s letters.
I don’t write down that we went to Target and bought a whosit and a whatsit and three items from the dollar bin. I don’t write down that I spent a couple hours getting into political arguments on Facebook.
Because those things aren’t what I cherish about my life.
I don’t sugarcoat. If I’m feeling tested by my children or angry with my husband (or myself), I’ll write it down, and examine how to move past it. But generally, the material things and wasted time simply aren’t worthy of remembrance. They’re not what pops into my mind when I remove the cap of my pen.
The sleeping baby, the playing child, the dappled autumn light on the hardwood floor, the dozing cats, the fairy tales, the tea, the cornflower blue sky, the quiet…those are the things I feel urged to record. Not the stuff.
Our home is shaped like an L.
On one end, bedrooms and bathrooms are clustered around a short hallway. This hallway empties into the living room, which houses the front door, coat closet, a squishy red couch, a few bookshelves, and a rather worn Oriental rug. Turn, and you find yourself in the kitchen, which flows into the dining room. Beyond that, the family room—which houses a much less-squishy blue couch, a television, a couple chairs, and a wall of built-in bookshelves.
We rarely use the rooms past the kitchen. I find myself wishing our house, which at about 1500 square feet is well below the national average, were smaller. More centralized. When I’m cooking, I like to chat with Jason. I can’t do that if he’s in the family room. When Simone’s in the bath, I want to be able to hear her playing while I pick up around the house.
Tonight I went to a babywearing meeting in another area of town. Jason and I lived there when we first got engaged. We walked to coffee shops and bookstores and our favorite Indian place. We lived in a small apartment with an absurd layout and an ugly futon and the dingy white walls of a rental, but it felt new and wonderful because it was ours. Driving home, the city lights a watery neon against the early autumn dusk, I listened to Richard and Teddy Thompson duet on the radio. I knew from the particular silence that my son was asleep in the backseat.
All of this time we have been looking for more, for upward mobility, for the things we feel are out of reach. But it’s always something more. We have two children and three cats. We have writing gigs and weekly playdates and alphabet magnets on the fridge. And sometimes I simply want to start over. Sell the house, pare down the toys and the kitchen equipment and the books and the electronics and the extra towels. Find a cozy rental in our old neighborhood and settle in. Less space. Less stuff. Less stress. More of each other and the things I really do, in the end, wish I could take with me.
The family of brown bunnies living in a burrow in our yard. Jason almost stepped on this tiny baby bunny while we were doing yardwork the other day, and I managed to get this photo of it hiding in the periwinkle.
Watching Simone play in her wading pool. We finally moved our shed out of the middle of the backyard and into a corner, so for the first time since we bought our house two years ago, we have a functional backyard for playing and hanging out. I foresee this change simplifying my life immensely next school year.
My cozy sleepy boy. I just figured out back carries with my woven wraps and they are fantastic.
Our huge tomato plants, which are absolutely heaving with tomatoes.
James’s cheery little personality.
I’m also pretty excited about:
- Uninterrupted daily writing time. Jason and I have been giving each other an hour of solo writing time per day, and it’s seriously amazing how much work you can get done without kids tormenting you!
- How when James is upset, Simone says, “He just wants mommy’s milk!”
- Blackberry wine and chocolate cherry cake