A month ago, on a dull February morning, Evaline flittered into my bedroom, twirling as though wearing a flowing dress and not mismatched leggings and a hooded fleece, her little arms spread wide as she delivered to me a sheet of paper with drawings of dolls, dresses, bicycles (and a pepperoni stick, because…why not?). Her birthday wish list.
I don’t want to turn nine, she told me, I want to stay eight. She moved closer to my side and leaned her head on mine. But, if I haaaaaave to turn nine, here is what I want for my birthday.
It’s funny how weeks can feel like years, and a month an eternity.
Earlier this week I had a cold and with all of the social distancing and reminders to wash our hands and cover our coughs and wipe every surface clean, I had to tell my not-yet-nine daughter that we’d have to practice air hugs for a bit.
Yesterday, she brought me a new list. Pepperoni stick has now made it to the top of the list – but my little girl has added a new wish: Big hug.
So, this is life now.
We wake up and wonder what else has shifted. How many texts are waiting for us from friends and family who are equally adjusting? What’s the latest update from the government? What’s the timeline? Are we going to be able to continue to feed our families? Does anyone really know what’s going on?
My not-yet-nine-year-old wakes up, does her schoolwork, then plays a recorder while marching around the house. (I use the word “plays” loosely. It’s the loud breathy wailing of goose in the throes of death, tripping over river stones.) My almost-eleven-year-old has started singing aloud while studying his math and language arts.
I start a documentary on Margaret Atwood and let myself drift as she reads You Begin. I float with her words, rising above this question-mark-moment of life, I’m as still and calm as the sunrise over the lake in my parent’s backyard.
I hear the cadence of our life in this house – the rhythm of us, navigating the invisible current of the unknown. Fingertips on keyboards, feet on treadmills, footsteps tapping under tables, pencils on workbooks. Heartbeats, whistles, hums, recorder notes warbling. Poetry.
For dinner, we support a local family-owned restaurant and pour hot takeout pho into bowls and wish we had chopsticks. We dance and play cards. We wait out March.
Three days until nine, Evaline passes me with a towel over her shoulder before the rest of the house is awake. She’s on her way to take an unprompted shower as I’m on my way back to be cozy again in bed.
She wants her ears pierced for her birthday and a month ago, a lifetime ago, I explained to her that she’d have to do a better job of being responsible and keeping clean before we’d even consider it.
This morning, I know that I’m going to plan on taking her as soon as we are able. I’m going to let her choose whatever studs she’d like, and maybe a purse or some sunglasses, too.
In bed, I nudge Vinnie awake. We stretch at the same time and with our arms in the air, hands held, I see that the flowers and stems from my bicep curl down and meet with the tips of the branches on his forearm. It’s a strange and unexpected thing, the ways we find comfort.
A week ago, we had planned for a birthday party to happen tomorrow. Cousins, friends, cake, gifts, nine wild and wonderful years of Evaline. Instead, now we’ll be together and bake a cake, let her decorate it with however many chocolate chips or sprinkles we can find in the pantry. We’ll give her gifts and be thankful that we live in the same house as our best friends who can be here with us, isolated but together.
I know that life is nothing if not a series of shifts and rumblings and moments that startle you from your sleep or drop you to your knees. We aren’t ever as in control as we imagine – the earth quakes beneath our feet, tornados touch down and tear apart what we’ve built with our hands. Oceans rise. Invisible enemies can float in the air between our bodies, can land on our skin. I know that though we live in this world, we are still beings whose waters can break with the pull of the moon. We are all together in this ebb and flow.
Today, there is no work to do other than housework. The bunnies are out as the kids clean their hutches. The cats are uneasy. The dog is pouting. The laundry is being loaded. The dishes have been washed. Evaline is in a dress and moves in dramatic spins as though a camera is watching her every footfall. Lila lights a candle to brighten the house with scents of citrus. Vinnie puts on music – a soundtrack for our puttering.
Later we’ll burn our Christmas trees. Later we’ll choose games from our closet.
There is no place to go, no place to be, but together here.