These days it’s hard for me to get out of the house. Right now, it’s easier for me to stay at home, anchored on the couch, avoiding people and recovering from long days of putting on a happy face. By the end of the day, I feel like an exposed nerve, shrinking away from every sound and movement. I’m not exactly falling apart anymore, but neither am I really back together again. I’m impatient to be past this part, but all I can do is keep breathing, keep getting up every morning and forging ahead and reminding myself that eventually this will run its course.
“Want wing,” he complained, stomping his foot. He turned to lodge his petition with Sam, and Sam just quietly slid a plastic sword in his hand. His face transformed, a smile swept across his mouth, gaining momentum until it erupted in a throaty laugh.
Last night, Sam sat with me on the couch after dinner and let me be still for a while. His shoulder pressed against mine, we watched in silence as the boys built a fort out of pillows and hid inside it, giggling wildly. Occasionally, Sam would ask if there was anything I wanted to do, but I couldn’t think past that moment, the safety of our living room, his warmth against me, the laughter of our boys.
Finally, he insisted that we at least get out in the backyard and enjoy the perfect spring evening. The boys were loathe to give up their pillow fort, which by then had become a point of contention and was causing not-so-gentle wrestling matches over territory each boy had staked out as his own. They followed their father out the door begrudgingly, kicking at the dirt as if to say see, there’s nothing out here but this old dirt. I sat on the patio, wondering too what made the backyard so special that I had to give up the safety of the couch to come see it. Lincoln walked up to me and whined, “I want wing.”
“No buddy,” I said, “I’m not going to swing you. Go play with your brother.”
The battle was on then, and my three boys danced around the yard, smacking plastic weapons together and repeating choreography they had seen in every light saber and sword fight they’d ever watched. Nico spun, light saber twirling around behind him, and landed a perfect blow. I laughed and snapped pictures. They laughed and pretended to impale each other. I was off my chair and out in the center of things without even realizing it.
I suddenly remembered that we had popsicles in the freezer, and we all took a seat on the patio, dripping melted popsicle juice like Technicolor tears across the cement at our feet. Linc showed off his newest injury, the one that has us calling him Scarface, and I caught Nico laughing with some boy’s face that had silently crept in and replaced my baby’s big, round cheeks. “Where did this enormous big boy come from?” I asked him. “I’m just growing up,” he said, and to prove it, the next time Lincoln made the rounds asking for someone to swing him, Nico jumped up and volunteered.
And maybe it had been this way all along, but as I watched my oldest son swing my youngest, I noticed how blue the sky was behind them, how green the grass was, how blissfully red the flowers looked in the garden behind them. Padding across the grass, the wind just cooler than the temperature of my skin, dogs running past, Sam playing the guitar up on the patio and the boys laughing and calling to each other: my entire life was assaulting me, and not for one moment did it feel exhausting or overwhelming. I didn’t even have to remind myself to breathe.
Later, after the boys were in bed, I looked through the pictures I had taken and sighed, remembering the surprise of feeling like myself again out in the grass with my life rushing by fast and loud all around me. I scrolled through the images over and over again, picking my favorites, smiling to myself, trying to soak up the reassuring effect of that chaos on my shaken and unsure spirit. And today, when I look at it, I still remember. The sky is still that blue, the wind still soft on my face, those boys still make my heart thump with pride and joy and love, and I am still here, breathing and smiling and knee deep in the living of a life that is not a spectator sport.