The past two weeks I’ve stopped in to visit at SVS after morning carpool. I’ve spent an hour there reconnecting with old friends, adults and kids and teens. Today my old friend, the six, smiled at me from behind his dad’s back, whereas last week I was toast. The art room is familiar and today I leave more heavy duty paper from the Crane factory, which the kids used to love for painting last year and which had run out, as well as a pair of scissors to add to the school’s collection, now my after school run is done. It’s wonderful to be there, but after an hour, I am ready to go home. I have a new cold and a lot to do before the weekend visiting my son with his brother and sister, driving to Oneonta for an ultimate frisbee tournament, first time I’ll have seen my boy play, second year on the RPI team, many years of playing in the local league.
I return to city living wondering what it would be like to shift my life, a question I’ve been asking for years. Then at home, I stop into my local health care center, place where my babies were seen into this world by the kindest ob/gyn staff I could have wished, where my many small worries and lumps and bumps and aches and pains have been assuaged all these twenty years or so I’ve been a patient there, a place I might as well call home. After that its off to my local bank, where the bank manager and the tellers all call me by name, ask me about my day, where I deposit day care checks, withdraw some cash for the weekend, re-activate my son’s passbook account and one we opened when we were raising tree house funds, both gone dormant the last two years. Teele Square, Davis Square, Garrison Avenue, Somerville, Mass, all these places are my home.
After the bank, I drive the few blocks home, park in my usual spot on the street, under the tree my once husband insisted my mom not cut down when she was helping trim hedges many years ago, now nearly as tall as the house with branches that shade the van and the yard, once full of perennials, now mostly myrtle and some mulch. Upstairs there are a few dishes to do, some from the van my son sent home with me after his night sleeping near school, late night of work and socializing with friends for this boy one night a week, finding his way into the outside world little by little by little, while at home things get quieter. The cat is missing me, hangs around the kitchen, mews for me to sit down, which I do, bringing piles of the week’s mail to the radiator by the couch, where I stretch out and the cat climbs on my belly in her usual way, claws needing clipping, cat needing petting after too much time with me and the kids away. Some days it seems we barely live here, in spite of the bank tellers knowing our names.
In a few minutes, I head downstairs, lay out the rest mats, open the portable crib, greet the teachers and parents and kids, help the little ones through their lunch to nap routine, check in with the am and pm teachers so I know what’s what. Today the little ones settle easily and the baby is awake. I lie beside him on the futon, with my two on the other side. The two drifts off as the baby and I play, first smiling at one another side by side, then with him on my belly, sitting up, bouncing, standing up a bit. Gradually he tires and the dishes call out to me. I strap him onto my belly with his mama’s baby carrier, and we bounce a bit in the sunshine by the sink, water running, dishes slowly washed, until he burrows into my chest, closes his eyes, and sleeps. Once he’s settled, I take his fleecy sleep sack from his hook, lay it down on the sheet of his crib, lower him into it, fitting his feet into the sack, his arms through the holes, zip him up and settle him down, return to the sink.
Then my five comes to the kitchen, back room closed, and I offer him colored blocks from the back hall. He sits in the sun with a felt board on the table to dampen the sound, makes spiraling rainbows of colored block, then small walls, towers, runs his fingers along the board’s metal edge. The sun shines on his white head and I am reminded of the sunshine on the rug in my living room growing up, the afternoon’s lying there with only my mind to keep me company, and I feel less sad for him than grateful to be the only five today, glad to have a home for him to share, for the baby to nap in, for the toddlers to come to each day, with home dishes and couches and windows of wood which open and close like the ones in their own homes, a bathroom with a mirror and tub, front and back porches and a yard.
I drink my tea. Jen rests on the couch beside the last straggling napper, my five shifts to a balancing moon game, the iphones play soft music to keep us company, the dishes dry in the sun. For a short while its still and mostly quiet, a sensation that’s rare in a school.
I’m working on this sense of home in my mind, think as I play with the baby about getting to know him in this way, learning his sounds and movements, allowing him to get to know mine. As I wash dishes I think of the time we all need to sort out our own thoughts, the quiet which invites us to do that, the way we use the word home to mean so many things, intimacy, being known, feeling safe and at ease, being ourselves, private, cozy, warm. For most of us home is those things. For some it’s not, but that’s when we question the definition more.
When I found my two kitties they were living in a home near Three Rivers, Michigan, where I went that summer for retreat. The sign along the road said, Kittens, Free to a Good Home. I was driving home to face my husband’s move out of the house into his own apartment, what felt like the dissolution of our home. My kids would be with each of us half time. The kitties felt like the right move, something for us to love in the hard time. The sign felt like a challenge to make my home a good one, or to define it that way. When I’m away for four weekends in a row, two of them long weekends, I question my fitness to care for the cat, not to mention my own sense of home. For the last three years I’ve been living that life, dating men who live in other towns, traveling a lot, parted from my kids every other weekend, finding it easier to be away than in the home where they should be, off with them many of the weekends we’re together, making memories I hope will survive.
For many years, we did day care in our home upstairs, first year with the infants and toddlers and twos, second year until now less full time, but for many years there were school age kids in the afternoons, friends of my kids, day care alumni, and other connections. Our dining room table was shared with those kids for homework, projects, snack. The bedroom which is now my son’s was our project room, full of toys and art and building materials to share with the kids, some of which are still there, many of which line the shelves of the dining room, tv room, and fill a table outside the bathroom on the second floor. The life drained out of the house a bit when I stopped spending afternoons upstairs, when my kids left for private school an hour away and began returning home barely in time for dinner, tired and ready for time in their rooms, when the marriage came apart and the dinner parties and celebrations evaporated, too, when I started dating men an hour or more from home, when the place became lived in part time.
The day care below is still lively between the hours of eight and five, five days a week. For many years, we had housemates there, too. This spring I thought of doing that again. This summer that idea seemed less doable than hoped. Winter brings it on, the need to enliven the house, snow storms burying me in quiet, windows and doors closed to the outside world, nest as quiet as can be, snow a challenge I feel overwhelmed to tackle alone.
Ironic really, that the place I find most alive as home is the business I run downstairs, full of kids and parents and teachers five days a week, not the home where my kids and I live. Probably something to think about going forward, the meaning of home as the kids grow, empty nest a reality for me half time, for Frances the cat, too.
Baby is waking in the back room, good nap for him, nearly an hour long. Boy at the table is balancing circles on the moon, others are all in quiet rest. Peace in the afternoon, the glory of family day care life. Welcome home:)