The kitchen is uncharacteristically quiet, probably because Maile and I told the kids they didn’t have to clean up after dinner, that we would take care of it. So the two of us mill around, wiping down the large table, loading the dishwasher, hand-washing whatever won’t fit. Outside, the hot August dusk wilts the leaves on the trees. A storm rolls in.
Our conversation is meandering, comforting. We talk about the kids, the music that comes on, our plans for the week. We talk about my work, the payments we’re waiting for, the ones that should come in soon, the bills we’ll pay when they do.
“Well,” I say. “We’re getting there.”
Pause. We both stop and look at each other. Rain splashes up in the alley, a mist.
“Remind me,” I ask. “Where exactly is ‘there’?”
* * * * *
Poppy is our youngest, the baby of the family, the one who, when she wakes up and comes downstairs, is greeted with cheers and celebration. Surely this shapes a child, being the recipient of this kind of familial adoration.
I bring up Poppy because Maile and I have been changing diapers, off and on, for 16 years. Cade was born on a warm June day in Wendover, England, and I still remember changing that first diaper. I thought his fragile little legs might snap off if I wasn’t careful, and he wailed at the cold air on his new skin. Ever since then, apart from a few short gaps between Lucy and Abra, and then again between Sam and Leo, we’ve stocked diapers in the house.
Yesterday, Maile decided to try to potty-train Poppy. And, unlike our other children, it seems to have taken almost immediately, with incredible success. She tells us when she needs to go. She even goes on her own, less than 48 hours into the experiment. I am still waiting for her efforts to come back down to Earth. After five other potty-training experiences, I know these things do not always stick.
Yet, just like that, we’re finished changing diapers. It’s rather shocking, actually, this idea that something I spent 40% of my life doing is now over. Never to be done again.
I can’t say it saddens me at all, the vanished need to purchase diapers. What will we do with all the extra cash? Maybe pay for another set of braces, I guess. But it is sobering, this entering of a new era, one where everyone, for the most part, sleeps through the night, and eats on their own, and doesn’t need a diaper change.
Where do the years go?
* * * * *
There is no ‘there.’ You know that, right? There is no magical future era where everything will be easy and everyone loves you and you sell enough books or make enough money or get the raise that solves everything. The marriage will not be perfect–it might even get harder, or better, or you might come to a new understanding. But the future holds no magic pill. There is only here, now.
Sometimes I know this. Sometimes I can feel the now in my bones. Like tonight, when the air conditioner kicks on and I can hear the rain pinging on the windows, when some of the kids are playing in the basement and Lucy is working on an essay and Cade is reading and Maile is upstairs writing novel number two. The light glares off the table and I don’t care about the bank balance or the manuscript due dates or the trim in the house that needs to be replaced. I take one breath, and another, and another. I can feel the now moving in and out of my lungs, pulsing with the heartbeat in my neck. There is something tangible in this present moment, and I am more aware than usual of each passing second.
Could it be that the only ‘there’ to get to is here already? Right now? In the good and the bad, the joy and the heartache, the diaper-changing and then whatever phase arrives in its wake? The sleep-deprived nights and the lazy Saturday mornings?
What will I do with it?