Earlier today, the girls and I pumped our legs on the swings under a mostly cloudless canopy of blue. Some trees hinted at turning green; others not at all yet. We startled a snake walking to a picnic table to set down our water bottles near the playground at the woods. We unzipped our coats in the sun; put them back on in the shade. Alice picked me a trout lily because I’m her “best mom.” I accepted it gratefully, but left it wilting on the picnic table because I’m not the best mom. I’m tired, grateful for siblings who’ll play when I want to sit.
For a while the playground was theirs alone, but two moms strolled over with toddlers. I busied myself at the table with a pen and a notebook. I tried not to hear their reviews of weight-loss shakes and gym memberships. I regretted not bringing a caffeinated tea, and my mind flitted from my notebook to the sky — the blue sky, obstructed by leafless trees. I want a big blue sky, I wrote in my notebook. A big blue sky. And I want to run.
That park’s my park, my place, where my sweat and tears have dripped to the trails as I wrestled with God and my own human self over these last three years. And all I’ve to show from it is a slight limp from the hip wrenched out of place; maybe like Jacob, only I didn’t get a new name or destiny out of it like that Genesis story that I’m pretty sure I don’t understand at all, not at all. My hip hurts, too, Jacob: that’s all I can say. God’s wrestled me into a season of being still — quite literally now that I haven’t run in a bit — and I’m craving the wrestling-with, the running-out, the time alone on a trail.
That Genesis story popped into my mind as I sat at that picnic table today in my not-running clothes, surrounded by my plethora of children in the abundant sunshine that warmed my face, with the wind that made me zip my jacket to the neck. Already and not yet do I feel rescue.
The sound of birds and girls laughing … and then the sound of three bickering over two swings: already and not yet.
“I get to go to kindergarten tomorrow! Now I’m five!” my middle daughter said today, her birthday. Already!
“Not yet — not until late summer,” I said. “Bummer, huh?” Not yet.
That’s my operating narrative now — already and not yet. It’s spring already, and not yet do we leave our jackets at home. Our homeschool year’s almost over, but not yet will they step into a new classroom; not yet do I have space. Already are Alice’s permanent teeth growing in; not yet have the baby ones fallen out. Already did I see a doctor for my hip and my not-running and my depression; not yet do I know why any of these things flare up when the weather turns warm and I need a breeze in my hair.
For years, I wanted to stay home with the girls, and yet around 2:30, I seem to find myself struggling to get a toddler to nap, and I’m wondering if I should’ve just been picturesquely shipwrecked when I was young, to quote my dear Professor. I really should’ve been shipwrecked. I’d have loved to toss letters in bottles from a shore, provided there were no snakes and a healthy supply of tea and potable water. I would’ve written these same words, though: contentment tinged with longing. “I’m living the dream,” I would’ve written on that letter from the island, “if only I had –”
But no: this won’t do. After we came home from the park and I wrestled that babe to bed, I sat on the porch and read Genesis a minute, still not understanding, until the dog and the oldest two girls ran to hug our neighbor. Nancy told us all about her busy morning and she retold a favorite anecdote about her children, now grown and moved away; she hung her hummingbird feeder in the back yard, anticipating the next “not yet” that’ll come to pass in a few days, give or take. Her careful tending of the details of the world around her speaks to the passing of all these not-yets, and when we said our good-byes for the afternoon, I had to pull back the covers to rouse that “I not tired” toddler from a nap.
It’s all passing, all these not-yets.
The trick is to find all the “already” signs: the first-grade books we’ve finished on the shelf; the math Alice does when she doesn’t realize it. The people all around us in community, the paragraphs written during naptime; the children old enough to find their shoes, propel themselves on a swing.
The leaves are already there, ready to unfurl: the stuff of summer’s packed into something smaller than my fingernail. They’ll open in time. I’m so impatient. These little people, trapped in children’s bodies. They love to wrestle, too. This soul in this body. Hey: the hummingbirds are coming.