We crossed paths in the clearance clothing racks of Walmart.
I held a list in one hand and a pile of garments in the other. Lila was pushing the carriage back and forth, and just enough to jostle her soundly sleeping sister awake. Evie burst into tears, and the Walmart employee paused beside us.
Oh, someone’s tired. Oh, someone’s upset.
She was older, streaks of white in her wiry brown hair, wide brown eyes behind glasses that slid down her nose, despite her attempts to nudge them back into place.
I nodded, holding a snuffly Evaline and a pile of garments, and a list. And two boys.
Oh, oh, oh. Oh my. So, you’re busy.
Evaline laid her head down on my shoulder and as I rocked her back and forth, I could see Lila smiling and nodding in response.
Busy, but happy, I sighed.
It wasn’t a lie. It isn’t a lie. I am busy, and I am happy.
But there, in the clearance racks of Walmart, with a weepy, sleepy, nearly three year old and a seven year old who insisted on
crashing pushing the cart, and my brain completely at a loss for how to find everything on this list for people I don’t even know, I just said the words, because, honestly, it’s what I felt like I’m supposed to say.
It was seven o’clock on a Tuesday, the evening before yet another day of snow in the forecast.
It was seven o’clock on the same day that I woke up to Sallie Mae calling to remind me that my monthly amount-due had more than doubled in the new year (hey, thanks for following up with me, now that I’m three payments behind,) and after silencing the ringer, I noticed a text from my husband about some red-tape issues we’ll have to get around before we can move forward with moving. It was the same morning when Evaline stood beside me, as I silenced my ringer and read the text, and she pulled down her footie pajamas and dropped wet poop all over my bedroom floor.
It was one of those days.
It was the morning when I found Lila in the living room, sitting beneath her purple quilt, hair tucked behind her ears, dog-eared book in her hands. The sun fell over her cheek and down her arm. Daylight, warmth. It would reach nearly sixty degrees in the hours to follow. Her lips moved with her eyes as she read. I hadn’t realized she was even awake.
Back in my bedroom, after washing everything post-Evaline explosion, Alex and I learned how to simplify fractions while curled in blankets. I sipped coffee and our cat Roscoe leaned down to watch his pencil and sniff at his work. After awhile, Asher joined us, handing me a pile of sight word flash cards, and the sweetest smile. Let’s do these.
To. For. Little. Me. My. You. Like. Go. Get. New.
There in the clothing racks, her gaze bounced back and forth between Lila and I.
You must have a big house. Four kids, oh my.
Lila, again, answered for me, an emphatic, oh, no, no no! We have a very small house.
The woman’s eyes grew wider, rising up over the tops of the frames of her downward sliding glasses. Oh! Well, you know, my brother just moved to Manchester. Great deals on houses there. Three bedrooms.
I nodded. Flashes of red tape and frustrations over things not my fault and beyond my control. Text messages. Emails. Nothing I was going to share with this kind woman, (clearly now taking a break from working under the guise of chatting with a customer.)
We’re looking up that way.
Oh, and my baby brother, with the liver problems, he just moved there too. She started looking past me, over the tops of the clothing racks and off toward the direction of electronics. He’s my baby, baby brother. My littlest one. He got a great deal too. She touched her side and blinked back to look at me again. He’s on a list, you know, for…
A co-worker interrupted her and away she went, off to do her job.
I just like to help out the younger generation, I heard her saying as she disappeared down the aisle of Hello Kitty and Tinkerbell nightgowns.
I’m busy, but happy.
I know that this is a theme I’ve paced around so many times in motherhood, and here in my writing. It’s the circle I’m living and these thoughts, they mark my steps, around and around as I go. Busy. Happy. Busy. Happy.
The woman at Walmart, her eyes were far away, mostly, talking through me, looking past me, as though we were passing ships and she was sending out (whatever she thought she had to offer as) life lines. She’s in a circle of her own, pacing around this worry for her baby brother, talking to strangers who don’t push their carts away fast enough.
And I wonder if all of life is just moving from pacing circle to pacing circle. We move as we’re ready, or as life moves us, from one cycle of life, of worries, of busyness, one string of thoughts, to the next
Here, I’m busy, but I’m busy with happy things. With children who bang down the door to tell me their newest knock knock joke (when I’m trying to take a shower, ) or who wake me up at four in the morning just because a hug from me will make them brave enough to run back to their own bed after a trip to the bathroom. I’m busy with a job that I love and clients I adore. I’m busy relearning basic math and taking in slow mornings when education is more about enjoying the peace and quiet of a quilt and a book on your lap in the sun.
I’m not busy dying, or preparing to let go of my baby baby brother.
I’m not, at this moment, busy with the sadness or the frailty of life.
I’m not busy being hurt or being down or being angry.
I am busy, being happy.
Even here, in this space.
And yes, even (red-tape, poop-on-floor-sallie-mae-is-stupid) yesterday.