Today my youngest child spent the whole day at her preschool, trailing like a small shadow her “Belsie,” a woman whose strength and gentleness defy belief; she is the type of person who comes into life rarely, and Isadora, though only 2, seems to know this. Being assured the youngest was so happily occupied, I had a rare day to devote to my two elder children, who, outside of now being in school, are at home constantly serving, with surprising cheerfulness, the demands of their sister, who though tiny in form looms over the family with regal and cunning command.
There are struggles. It is a list that contains within itself the universe, and universal range, of human complexity, blindness, and suffering, with the very lucky exception of financial poverty. There are health problems, both mental and physical; there are problems that arise from too much intelligence and too much dreaminess; the strife of love’s arc, with its paradox of infinite reach and ephemeral limitation, defines the boundaries of the children’s life as well as the confusing rift between the adults who inhabit it.
Rare are the days, then, when I now wake up and think, as I so often did when my children were very young and love was new and huge and seemed a soft dream of flesh and infant eyes and morning walks under a fresh sun – so scarce now are the days I rise and think, “simplicity.”
But today was one of those days. We didn’t look at the clock as we left the house, the dog jumped into the car and it didn’t matter; we lingered, everywhere, and their sibling bickering was intermittent background noise to a day that was obviously and sweetly a happy one.
I spent a ridiculous amount of money on books and sweets as gifts for them, and they each in their turn gave me a gift that far outweighed the value of mine. Their offerings were a secret, particularly unknown by the givers themselves, which makes the treasure all the more exquisite.
Delphine was first. She is a child unknown by most people around her: she is moody and her mind is a hazy vision of acute sensitivities, introversion, and eccentric watchfulness. She sees everything and hears nothing. But there is a cave in her heart through which a river of memory and fancy flow; the waters intermix and I do wonder whether she is not sure sometimes what before her is concrete or illusion. Recently she announced that she is going to be “a poet who travels the world helping the animals.” That seems about right for her.
We were driving down a busy boulevard. It was quiet, the day coming to an end. Suddenly, her small six year old voice came forth with a question that had clearly been rolled around like a rough rock in her mind, “Why,” she sighed, “doesn’t the world ever end?”
She did not want me to answer the question. It was a statement, and we let it sit between us, like a presence.
On the way home, as the sun suddenly brightened with a late spring intensity and then just as rapidly faded behind some distant storm clouds, Archer and I were struck simultaneously by the evening’s beauty. The mountains were darkening to blue-grey, a deep ocean color that made their silhouette appear a knife-sharp contrast to the often electric hue of the Colorado sky. The peaks to the South were covered like delicate lace in lightening fog, and the ground was shimmering from recent intense rain.
“Look at this,” Archer said, staring hard at the landscape ahead of us. “Look how beautiful. If it weren’t for the buildings and the roads and the cars it would all be so perfect.” He paused. And then he said, “I think most people don’t see this. They’re so busy speeding down the road or going into shops or whatever that they don’t even see where they live.”
I sat with that for a few seconds. Then I asked him, “Nug, how did you come to think that? Did you hear Daddy or me say that?”
“No,” he shrugged. “I just watch.”
I gave my children thousands of words today, all bound in bright covers and contained in neat rows. They gave me a moment. A moment in a day, in a life, a moment in the unfolding of time itself. Such a moment has no language; it exists outside of it, which makes their gifts – in a manner that is to me true and real – eternal, belonging then to all of us and none of us.