April 3, 2021
Just like that, seven months of Three of Earth School is done. And by “just like that,” I don’t mean “just like that.” More like, “seven years later . . . ” I kid you not, in a contest with four and a half years of mother care, it’s a photo finish, and the judge is passed out in the corner.
We had a fun last day. We went for a long walk in the woods—and it was the boys’ idea! They know trillium and toothwort and how to get to Staebler Point. There was a worm involved, set free when it was too hard to run with it cupped in hands—and I said no to putting it in my pocket.
After lunch we visited the exotic pet store in town, which I had been meaning to take at least animal lover Adrian to.
We had ice cream.
I’m glad I made it special for them and for me. I would have been irritated with myself had it just been another day. It needed an exclamation point.
Seriously, though, as challenging as the year has been, when I am looking back on my life some day from the distant future, I have no doubt I will say this was the most important thing I did in my life. Back before the pandemic (remember before? It’s like saying “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth”), I was facilitating a women’s writing circle. We explored legacy for several weeks, because that’s the phase of life we are in . . . what we leave behind becomes important. I figured maybe making it possible for my mother to stay in her home until she was one hundred years old—and hopefully writing and publishing a book about it—would figure prominently, even though there wouldn’t be anyone around to remember me for it. But now this.
It’s been the worst of times, the best of times, for sure. But if I made Emma and Wynne’s life even a little better, and if I brought even a little joy to Adrian and Elliot, then I’m just going with the best of times—especially now that it’s in the rearview mirror. I hope they will remember these months, if not in their brains (I mean, really, my memories of when I was their age is like dandelion fluff), their hearts will remember. What I do vividly remember of my childhood with happy nostalgia is playing in the woods behind our house by the south bay of Puget Sound. The story of those years consumed my writing practice in my first writing courses. I hope this year stands out for the Littles, like that time does for me.
My sister and I raised families 2500 miles from grandparents. My paternal grandmother barely knew me. And I’m far from my son and his family. To have gotten this time in the same house with these two little guys and watched their development has been a gift. Up close as I’ve been, though, it’s hard to see. But these past two weeks, I’ve taken the long look back to the beginning.
The first thing that comes to mind is the potty talk stage—so very annoying for so long—has vanished. When it stopped, I’m not sure; I just now realized it’s gone. Adrian learned to zip his jacket and know which shoe goes on which foot, and left from right directionally too. He can find his way in the woods. They can both find their way in the woods. He can do puzzles, and he’s a math whiz. He can count by twos, and almost get from twelve to sixteen without skipping the numbers between when counting by ones. He can add and subtract (thanks to “Number Blocks” on Elliot’s school iPad . . . and maybe a little from me too). He knows what I mean when we sit on the living room floor for our daily “Pretend Stories” and I ask him what the plot is. He doesn’t like to come up with a plot, but he knows what I’m talking about.
Progress with Elliot is more difficult to pinpoint because his learning was more online with his teacher. And he already knew how to do stuff that’s easy to observe. He likes to cook, and it’s been fun to bake goodies with him. He can very nearly do it by himself.
Both of them became so comfortable with arriving here every Sunday afternoon, with being here, with me. I think it really has felt like home to them. Like going to grandma’s house feels to children who grow up in the same town with grandparents. Elliot told me he wants to help me can tomato sauce. I hadn’t even mentioned it. He knows who I am! Guess I’ll need to plant plum tomatoes this year!
As for my own growth, I’ve had to learn to live with noise, with children being children, with clutter, with messes. It’s been challenging to be back there again, so long after my own children grew up and I became a lover of solitude and things in their place. I think I did okay once I learned to let it go. These two guys have some atypical behaviors, though, as you’ve read here, and those continued to test me, much like my mother’s increasing dementia tested me.
When they drove away on Wednesday—just Emma and the boys this week, and a day shorter than usual, and no school, so atypical on several counts—I cried in spite of my relief. What is the sorrow about when something so hard is over? I’m exploring two things: The chance to do it better is over, the same grief I felt when my mother died. And the feeling that my usefulness is done. I know that second one is not true, but this could be the last intense thing I do. It’s certainly not one I thought I would do, and it feels a little like I got a bonus opportunity.
Twenty-four hours after their departure, I cleaned up in the family room. Oofda! Bring on the tears of endings along with the look back. I wish I had taken a before photo of the table I cleaned off. But I found Adrian’s artwork and Elliot’s uncompleted morning work pages. And don’t get me started on evidence of all the strategies that didn’t work. I had some big ideas last September. Reality check: you are not in charge here.
[I always meant to tell you about that sticky note creation—the yellow/red/green. If I recall correctly, it’s a volcano. You see it erupting at the top—the yellow? Then the long red river of lava. I don’t remember what the green is. Maybe the ocean, like in Hawaii. And the one to the left is a turtle (?) with an egg sac. Adrian is four! An animal facts genius.]
So, that’s a wrap on Three of Earth School. I guess I get to keep the second WiFi, installed for three people to be on it at once. Really, I think that went not too badly. It felt like a crisis at the moment when it went down, but mostly it came back (I think), and overall it didn’t happen as often as we perhaps feared it would, given this rural location.
We will all remember this as a challenging year, lives and expectations turned upside down. But like the years with my mother, when all is said and done, I’m so grateful to have been here in the muddle. And we did better than our worst.
Oh, one other thing. It’s not really over. Elliot will be in school and after school care, but I get days with Adrian. We don’t know the schedule, or if he (and Emma) will be here or I will be there, but I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for being here with me. Next up, jury duty.
For a look back at preparing for week one, click here.