Randy is in San Jose, playing golf.
Our little red rental house may be haunted. Doors swing open suddenly. I was awakened at dawn by a woman’s voice calling, “hello?” downstairs. I dozed off again when only silence followed. This afternoon Mia ran out to the backyard fort, then returned to ask, “Is there someone in the house with us?”
“No,” I said, starting to feel like we were in a horror movie trailer. “Why?”
“I heard voices,” she said.
With this trip to Saugatuck, where the spring is slower to arrive than on our western side of the lake, we’ve managed to move back in time. The buds are still new, many trees still winter-bare. Out a window is some shagged barked tree, a hickory? “It looks like bacon,” says my cousin Sal of the strips peeling off its trunk. Tendrils of branches pour down from overhead, bearing blossom-like clusters of new leaves.
We have made spring linger. We have gone back in time. What will you do with extra time? What would you do with a second chance?
During our last-night game of Charades (simplified down for the kids to What Animal Am I?) Eleanor demands space in my lap. I look down at her entire body fitting in the space between my hip and knee. I say, “you’re just a little thing, aren’t you? Little feet. Little knees. Little hands.” I enclose each part of her body with my grown hands.
She pulls her thumb out of her mouth long enough to insist, “I’m a big gull!”
I know she is my last child. I feel pushed and pulled, melting over the traces of babyness she still holds, yet delighting in every new development.
When she was an infant, I would catch a glimpse of a rabbit in the yard or a petting zoo goat and say to Randy, “That reminds me of Eleanor!” Was it the soft forehead, the innocent eyes? I remember this feeling now, but the sense of actually feeling it is gone. She is a girl of language now. I won’t recognize her in that animal way again.
Eleanor is two years, four months old. Mia has four years and seven months old under her belt. It’s a pink belt, of course, that she needs to keep her skirts from falling off her non-existent hips.
I tell Randy, “Nora is the age that Mia was when Nora was born.”
“Mia’s always seemed this age,” he replies. I know what he means. They grow so slowly but change so quickly. Parents know this old truth as intimately as Northerners know the ancient relief and joy of spring’s return.
We had a lovely weekend. A walk in the Michigan woods, a kitschy visit to ye olde Windmill Island in Holland. Erik made bread and periodically ran off to fight barn fires.
But I am happy to come home, happy to be back in our time, happy my children change and grow.
After the absurdity and slowly decaying frenzy of bedtime, I climb down the creaking stairs of our haunted rental house to find an orderly kitchen and suddenly spacious living room. How big everything looks without a sprinkling of toys! Erik and Sally have cleaned up. How strangely pleasant the house suddenly feels - like when we first walked in.
Sally builds model Viking ships, blows glass in the basement. Erik manicures the yard, considers car care as an extension of his daily shower and shave. He takes a walk while we watch Sleeping Beauty with the girls, then returns, comments how quiet it was in the garden.
Meanwhile, our hybrid carries the detritus of a four day road trip: crumbled snacks, abandoned diversions, shed clothing, scattered hand wipes . . . Oh I'll admit it! Our car always looks like this.
It’s actually pretty funny. We eye each other with curiosity – who are these strange foreign animal with their odd habits of den and nest?
Sally is my cousin. She was born the month before my sister Nancy. We’ve always had so much to talk about, even as our lives diverged after childhood. The girls adore her.
So we drive by the Saugatuck high school and I’m thinking, but in no way tempted to say, “Look, Mia! Here’s where you could go to high school!”
I am not talking about our family moving here for Daddy’s work. I am thinking of where the girls would live if Randy and I suddenly were gone.
Who thinks this way? I do. Methodically anticipating the details of an earthquake.
Years ago, when I started to bluntly ask Sally about putting her name on our will, she interrupted me with the simplest, most loving confirmation of my trust. “Don’t worry about it.” So I didn’t.
But what an upheaval for her and Erik. I would be asking them to give up their lives. Walking again into their immaculate house, their full and satisfying schedules, I consider the upset and surrender of Ruth and Phil’s family. But no one asked Ruth and Phil to take the four of us in; they did the asking themselves. Who knows? Did my aunt and uncle, like other happy couples, dream separately and surreptitiously of a sudden alternative, a blameless reversal of the simple pattern the possibilities of their youth had fallen into?