Photo by M.Brott The days soften. The scent of mud reaches our nostrils thawing beneath lacy layers of dirty snow. Icicles fall. My body is adjusting to eating scraps of sleep. In the middle of the night a headache fills the space between my temples, thrumming and groaning like some hungry wild beast, but in the morning there is just the window, the pale light, the rumpled sheets.
There is an hour then, between five and six when the light is changing from gray to yellow and the tall birch outside the glass is filled with birds, that I curl my body around Sprout, milk drunk after nursing. His head smells like honey; like rain on a summer afternoon; like something that is mine.
We lie like otters and dream. DHâ€™s breath is warm on my neck. My feet press against his shins, heat traveling between us under the tangle of covers. I will forget so soon how this heat takes me by storm in the middle of the night; how I am suddenly drenched with sweat, thrash at the sheets, shove my ankles akimbo over the edge of the mattress. I will forget how my fingers blunder with snaps, milk soaking through my shirt; and how, sitting cross legged on the bed changing Sproutâ€™s diaper in the mostly dark, my core muscles feel non-existent like my middle is composed of anemones winnowing in the gap between my ribs and pelvis.
Then, invariably Bean comes in just as morning is unclenching its late winter fists and the cardinals are marking their territory in scarlet song. Bean is a long-legged colt all of a sudden. He is full of giggles and kisses and knees. He comes in dragging his raggedy blanket and shimmies under the covers. Then the bed is a boat, a space ship, a racecar. We stagger to catch up: hot water, espresso, fried eggs.
In the late morning I pull on my chocolate polka-dotted rain boots and go outdoors with Sprout strapped to my chest. The snow is melting. Bean is carrying his hammer. DH has an armload of freshly cut two-by-four planks. Weâ€™re heading up the hill, our little family of four, through the woods where the ground is spongy and the snow is sometimes deep.
At the top of the hill, as far back in the woods as our land goes is an old tree. A sugar maple, struck by lightening, hollowed first by fire, then by termites. It is the perfect tree to hide in for a small boy. Bean calls it his â€œfort.â€ Last summer I would hike up with him and hoist him into the cool dark of the hollow trunk where leaves made a soft resting place and light filtered down in long dusty motes from above his head. Now, newly independent, he wants to be able to climb in himself so we bring wood and nails to hammer a rudimentary latter to the trunk.
Our pet goose follows us up the hill, and Sprout, tucked into the Bjorn on my chest makes whispering coos as he sleeps. He wears a blue and green hat like a little gnomeâ€™s.
The nails sing as they are driven into the wood. Ping, ping, pang, pong, pong. Some bend, encountering knots. The trunk is old. Only a few limbs will have bright green buds and leaves this year.
Later we cut across the snowy meadow past the sleeping garden, following the melting tacks of deer to our neighborâ€™s house. They are running sugaring lines today, drilling holes for spouts. The sap is running. We cup our hand under the spiles and taste the liquid. It is clear and cold and faintly sweet.
*** I go back to my notebooks from this same time during the early weeks after Bean was born and before, and am struck by how Iâ€™ve changed.
I was just twenty-seven. Living in the suburbs. Commuting. Newly married. Every day l imagined a parallel life. Me in a little bohemian flat somewhere above a grocery on the Upper West Side. Thrift store teacups and lampshades, a futon mattress on the floor, nights spent in smoky cafes, up headache late by choice. I was always hankering for a life I believed was more exotic than my own. There was always escape route folded in my back pocket; the bags of my heart always packed and waiting at the door.
This should come as no surprise.
I come from restless women. My grandmother fell in love with her cousin, and, forbidden to marry him, left England on a steamer, broken hearted. She met her husband on that voyage: a German farmer from a good family, and though they traveled around the world together on a honeymoon that lasted fourteen months, sipping tea from brass bowls in Tibet, and drinking camelâ€™s milk in the Egyptian desert, she never really allowed him, or the life he had to offer, to measured up.
I can picture her at the kitchen window looking out at the red dairy barns tucked into the softly rolling Appalachian hills, rinsing plates and resenting every one. She wore stockings and pea coats, when neither was practical; drank afternoon tea from china cups; wrote hundreds of sonnets. Hers was a life of sighs. Before she died she burned most of the poems she had written.
Before Bean, before here, before this, I could never picture myself settled. Houses terrified me. Staying put terrified me. And it was a terror I had learned by heart, handed to me in the blueprints of how to be inked by my mother and her mother before her.
My mother, never quite content, always moved where my father asked her. First to a cabin high in a bowl of the Rocky Mountains where she hung my diapers to dry in subzero temperatures, then carried them indoors, flat as boards to thaw before the woodstove. Then to a house on the hill among dangerously flammable eucalyptus in the Los Angeles suburbs where the Santa Anna winds would make the carpets ripple, and smoke from wild fires obscured the San Adres Mountains. And finally to a low ranch with metallic floral wall paper on a winding macadam road in California wine country where the grass was green in January and dead by April. The seasons were Rainy or Dry, and in spring tractors would spray yellow clouds of pesticides onto the grapes.
Somehow deep within my bones I memorized this message: houses were discontent. Settling meant just that: settling for something, for something less. I distrusted the process of committing to growing a life and growing a family because I assumed it would make me like my mother: restless with regret for a life she had never had and could never quite imagine.
But somehow I managed to say yes to it, despite the bucking of my heart. I have a good man, and maybe this is partly why the terror has gradually been dissolved by joy. Knowing I was like a spring-broke filly always threatening to run, DH promised, and promised again: we can go anywhere, and will if we need to. This place is just for now, for the time being.
But in the time being, I have begun to spend the time, being.
*** It is early evening and upstairs DH and Bean are napping. Everyone is trying to catch up on sleep whenever they can around here. Bean spent the night at his grandparents and didnâ€™t go to bed until nine. When he came home today his huge eyes were glassy and the skin below his eyes was pale and almost purple. When he looks tired like this I want to scoop him up and tuck him into the pocket of my heart. My little boy.
On the couch, I sit with my legs up, Sprout on my chest, his fuzzy head pressed to my chin. I am smitten. Even in the moments when his crying makes me crazy I am smitten. I had no idea this would happen. This love. This wild contentment.