Yesterday, after dropping off Amelia at a middle school she despises, I pulled over on the side of the road and cried. It felt like hours. But was more like ten minutes. I sometimes don’t know how to hold them all up – all six of them. Thomas needs me more than ever. The kids, well…at least 1-4 think we’ve purposefully ruined their lives. Five is the happiest little girl, all chunk and giggle.
When I turn off the highway into our neighborhood, the light filters through the pines in golden pink light. This time of the day is magic here, filling every aching bone, and my tired heart, with hope. Thomas told me I’d grow to love this place, his childhood home. I will because it’s a part of him. And the now familiar glow of an early autumn evening tells me it’s so.
I pull into the garage, next to Thomas’ truck. Leaving the shopping bags, I step into the house. It’s quiet. Through the kitchen window, looking out on to the backyard, I see my people. All six of them. Thomas is chasing the boys around the yard. Amelia is holding the baby on the swing. She’s facing the action, total amusement on her chubby little face.
I watch from the kitchen. Thomas stops running, and standing in the middle of the yard, he sticks his tongue out at Ben. Ben, never one to stand down, places his hands on his hips and like every good eight year old should, he accepts the taunt, and charges Thomas. Jack, comes towards Thomas from the other direction. The two boys colliding with my husband from either end. Jack has jumped on his back and Ben’s now clinging to Thomas’s leg. Lunatics. They’re all lunatics.
I laugh. Hard. As usual, William has lost interest and he’s digging in the dirt nearby. I don’t know what Thomas just said, but it must have been hilarious – on cue, they all laugh. Like a sitcom laugh track, in unison. Amelia looks up, towards the house and sees me standing in the window. She waves. And her mouth forms the words, “Mom’s home!”
I head outside, and as I reach the deck, they’re all there. “Mooommm!!” A noisy chorus. Sadie, our terrible, rotten lab joins the rest of them. Sweaty, smelly heads and dirt crusted fingernails are all around me. I saw them all seven hours ago but you would think it has been days. They all talk at once, as per the usual. Amelia hands me Ella.
My sweetest surprise, joining us when I thought we were through having babies, puts both hands on my cheeks. She’s babbling. I’ll be so very old when she graduates high school. But she is joy personified. I smile. How can you not? The boys lose interest in me quickly and run back into the yard. Thomas is standing at the bottom of the deck stairs. He smiles at me in that way he does – the way he has smiled at me for fourteen years. He looks like himself for the first time in weeks.
I stand in front of him. His eyes, so warm, told me everything back then – long before he worked up the nerve to say the words. I know how to read those eyes still. “Thank you,” he says. “I know we have made this move unpleasant for you. Thank you for letting me follow my dream. And thank you for taking care of us while we’re all cranky and angry and surly. Missed you today.”
“I missed you, too,” I say. I’ve missed him longer than just today. “I love you, baby.” He smiles. He owns me with that smile. Always has. And always will.
“Ditto,” he says as a bouncing ball hits in him in the head. “Excuse me, I have a ten year old to torture.” He runs off towards Jackson, who is now laughing – a hyena-like laugh. I haven’t heard it in months.
With my sweet Ella girl in my arms and the rest of our clan playing in the yard, the fatigue pulls at my eyes. But this. It looks like this. The exhaustion that started when Amelia got sick, and hasn’t abated since, is there in the air around me. This noisy mess of kids and that beautiful man – worth every last bit of it.
It looks like this. This. I wouldn’t trade it for rest-filled nights, less laundry and a house that doesn’t smell like sweaty boy 98% of the time. It looks like this. And it’s all I want.