Any minute now the door will swing open and my children will stumble from their bedroom. A friend tells me of a Polish mother’s proverb that says “one is none, but two is a million,” and mine will sound like, feel like, precisely one million, entering into my Saturday morning quiet.
But not yet. For now it’s me and the gull cries and the prowling cat, so pampered and pretty. The rainbow-throwers hanging on the window have Satchmo stalking, stalking those shimmers through the house. The white haze tells me the day will be hot. But not yet. For now, breakfast and coffee, in quiet, celebrated.
I slept last night—a mercy. I’ve experienced a strange bout of insomnia for the past six weeks, and find myself scrambling, cutting back caffeine, plotting nightly cups of tea laced with a calcium/magnesium brew, following the drowsy instinct whether it hits at eight-thirty or eleven, finding ways to invite sleep closer. My friend Katherine tells me I’ve successfully reinvented myself after age 40, and that I’m just beginning, and perhaps that is the tumult keeping me from sleeping. I don’t feel reinvented—“culmination” comes to mind, though that may seem presumptuous. I’m pulling all the threads together, into one life. I expected I’d uncover a storyline when I started writing. I didn’t expect such an unusual sense of power to it, though. Graduate study, pulling away from other’s needs to serve my own needs, travel, running at freelance opportunities as fast as I can… okay, I’m reinventing my life, while tending the same children, home and husband, in the same tiny condo by-the-sea. Neighbors ask me “what’s new” and I start to laugh maniacally, considering how to respond, how to translate seismic shifts into a “hi, how are you” conversation. “I’m still here. Everything else is new.”
One pajama boy emerges from the bedroom, but one is none. He asks for Daddy and sneaks across the hall for a sleep-in. The coffee is still warm and my stack of books can stay right here on the living room floor. I hope the two of them will find a way to be, together in the next room. The boy can be exceptionally demanding.
One pajama girl emerges, greets Satchmo and she heads to the bathroom. I overhear Brendan asking Scott “why” and “how” questions about baseball technicalities, which means both are happy. Scott’s voice moves steadily and patiently through definitions and fine points of distinction. “Does that make sense?” he asks after each concept. “Uh-huh,” Brendan answers, satisfied, and the questions end for awhile in the quiet of the morning.
Madeleine settles into the couch behind me, with a new book about girls and bodies—her friends are growing rapidly, though she will be a late bloomer like me. There is treasure in waiting, even in being “last,” but I felt left out of so many things as a child, not wanting to change to be like the boy-chasing girls, as I saw them. Madeleine’s childhood is completely different—she is a happy and social girl who makes friends easily, and she is quite comfortable with boys, unlike me at that age. This book is nothing like the book my mother handed me, which covered anatomy and anatomical processes. Madeleine’s growing-up book has colorful illustrations and talks about friendships, differences from one girl to the next, clothing choices, and the anatomical details are tucked in, just like normal conversation. It’s nothing we haven’t talked about already, but as an American Girls title, the book holds some weight of authority. Unlike the book handed to me, this book makes growing up seem quite normal and not catastrophic.
Brendan emerges with a copy of our school’s yearbook, and sits quietly on the other end of the couch. His mouth shows evidence of last night’s dessert and his nails need trimming, both topics to pursue—but not yet. The quiet is all. My back is propped on the same couch, at my laptop. All is good.
One question I hear, in good writing, is the question, “what is at stake?” I understand that some stories are powerful, and I know a powerful story when it is happening to me. Often, though, I want to write and write when nothing is at stake, nothing at all. It’s a strange impulse, I know, but I feel sure it will serve me.
Like this moment serves me, the gulls, two children who are not yet a million, a sleeping husband in the next room over. This day is unlike any other. Nothing is happening. We are just here, contented and the world is open on a quiet Saturday. My friend Kellie tells me, “All I have is this breath.” As soon as I say it, I breathe deeper and taller, hear the whir of the rainbow-thrower and the gulls overhead. I breathe in the scent of pinon coffee from Valerie, the scent of pulled pork simmering in the crockpot for later, and sea salt. (The pork is leftovers, raised to glory—don’t tell my family, okay?) I do not ignore the scent of the compost that needs to be emptied, and I am relishing all scents before the cat is fed, the worst scent of the day.
As a Christian, I have so much more than this breath, the whole created order and all of history… and this breath, right now. Make it a good one, I remind myself, make it good.
Scott lumbers out and moves the laundry along, and the questions about what to do and how we will do it, begin. I don’t say the spell is broken—this breath is all I have, still, though conversations fly and breakfasts need to be addressed, the dryer tosses its contents and Satchmo begs loudly for his fishy-smelling stuff. The million emerge from the no-longer quiet.
And that's alright. I have this breath, and I am ready.