He calls between evening appointments to say, “Don’t miss it.”
I meant to bring down the advent box and the beautiful advent lantern, this fifth day of December and the third day of the advent season. I stepped in the school store to buy a set of advent candles, but half a dozen parents were shopping, and there wasn’t really room for one more.
Carl asked if the kids could play after school’s end, in the little wooded area they call a playground. “You need a winter coat on,” he said merrily. “You’re from the Midwest! You should know better.”
“Oh, I do, I do,” I pull my wrap around my thick wool sweater. “I just haven’t faced the cold, yet. It was sixty degrees last week.” I found my warm hat, and my warm curls add a bit of insulation to my ears and neck. I found my fleece gloves, too. It’s my feet, I want to say. My feet are unprepared, and it makes me crazy that I can’t find my warm sock-liners, my feet’s salvation.
Laura and Jesse asked us to have cocoa with them at the local coffee shop, a rare decadence. It’s all the light we have today, I think, just this little sliver of an hour, and I hate to be away from the sunlight. But it’s also “beggar’s feast” night, creative use of leftovers night, so we go for mugs of hot brew. The children’s cups are topped with mountains of whipped cream, swirls of chocolate sauce, and colored sprinkles. I wish I were so carefully tended as these mugs of cocoa.
We emerge from the coffee shop in the half light, and stumble into the beautiful gem shop, the jewels and stones and fossils arranged by color family, and the proprietor charmed by three curious learners, holding each of the kinds of tumbled stones in the display of pocket treasures. Brendan examines huge amethyst caves, fish fossils, picture jasper.
And the cell phone rings just as we are leaving.
“Don’t miss it. Have you looked out the window?”
“We are downtown. What should I see?”
“Oh, you are out and about? Drive the Boulevard. Now is the time. Don’t forget to watch for the moon. Even the highway is gorgeous. Go now.” I say okay and hang up, and hustle the kids into the van. They begin to argue over music or no music, and somehow they agree on quiet, as I round the corner, just at the right moment. The sun is already down at four p.m,, but the deepening color lingers over the pretty end of the harbor. We drive just to drive, in the pink winter light.
I once lived near enough to Stacy Boulevard that I could run down the street and watch the seals on cold afternoons, until the sky was too dark to see them anymore and the air grew cold. Now we live on the other side of town, scarcely two miles away. Most days I sit in the bay window for the last half hour of light, if I haven’t gotten sucked into a project or writing on the other side of the room. I often get distracted, with Madeleine and her homework—such a new phenomenon that she relishes the work—and Brendan and his toodling projects.
Stars emerge with a sliver of orange moon, and the Big Dipper is visible when I climb the second flight of steps to our treehouse condo.
After all the sorting directives, coats away, shoes away, lunch boxes empty, I start the kettle of water for chicken stock. Vegetable scraps from the freezer, chicken bones from last night’s roast, thyme, rosemary, two cloves and a bay leaf. I start a smaller pot for tonight’s soup: a small onion and celery stalks, carrots and red lentils for body. Leftover roasted potatoes, corn, broccoli. I almost always enjoy the resulting soup, but tonight, just as I am thinking I can barely choke it down, Madeleine declares it the best soup ever.
Then the baths begin, while I cut thin slices of the stale bagels. Madeleine butters the slices and we place them on a cookie sheet to toast in the oven, mixing cinnamon and sugar while we wait. The stars are clear, the one lonely string of Christmas lights shimmers, and each child opens a door on the Advent calendars. Madeleine the Reader locates her verse in the book of Isaiah. The smell of toasted bagels fills the room and we run to sprinkle cinnamon and sugar over the “toasties,” then gobble them up. Toothbrushing, and a quiet evening is ending.
Then my brother phones, and the quiet exits while children shout hellos and I talk with him on the speakerphone. They are hearing too much, but I forget how to turn off the speakerphone without hanging up on the caller. I’ve made the same cutoff mistake a dozen times. And he’s entertaining, as I stir the pot of chicken stock bubbling on the back burner, the condo filling with the aroma. The children practice home-run sliding into bed a few times before I figure out just what is going on. It will take awhile to settle them down, now. Scott arrives with a bag of groceries.
“Did you see it? The color?” he asks.
“Yep. Someone called to give me a ‘heads-up,’ so I saw it, thanks. Beautiful night.” I answer. He tucks kids into bed, or subdues them somehow. I strain the soup broth for another beggar’s feast, sometime in the future. Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll bring down the advent lantern I’m so eager to see, and the candles, and the box of advent stuff. Today, well, I’m waiting already, paying attention to the quiet darkness, saving up rich moments of light against the long winter nights.