Last weekend I escaped to a cabin on Priest Lake in Northern Idaho with two wonderful girlfriends. If you picture Spokane as a rural, snowbound pocket of pseudo-civilization guarded by impossibly tall, snow festooned pine trees with turkeys wondering around the urban neighborhoods, well … yes. Picture Priest Lake with 200,000 less people, 200,000 more pines, and four more feet of snow. I drove Matt’s 15 year old Suburban with four-wheel drive and truck tires because the weather was iffy and the roads were worse. We went slowly to accommodate the ice, the pitch black and the 2 feet tall snow berms along the deserted, pine-tree lined, two-lane highway, overly cautious because I didn’t know the rhythm and sway of the road, and because it was a shot of pure wonderful to be engrossed in good conversation in an otherwise silent car.
The dog was just there. One second the headlight beams caught only snowflakes and black tarmac and the next second they outlined a shape my brain recognized with no time to compute or react. I saw the collar around his neck, I remember that, or I imagine I do, and the simultaneous thoughts: Oh shit, a dog! And then, DO NOT SWERVE. I didn’t, which is fortunate, I think, traveling at 45 mph on a narrow, icy road, for the three people in the Suburban, but very, very unfortunate for the poor dog. The sound of that impact is not one any of us will easily forget. In the end, we couldn’t even call whomever would miss him and then find him dead in the morning because he lay in the middle of the road and given how quickly we bore down on him, I did not feel comfortable having one of us stand in the same place for even a short time.
We drove on and left him there, physically, if not mentally. The next morning I woke to the sounds of only two other adults in the blissfully child-free cabin – coffee brewing, water running, pages quietly turning. Is it just me or is it the mornings that are so utterly decadent about taking a short break from life as a mom? I squandered mornings before Matt and I had children. I squandered EIGHT YEARS of unappreciated, taken for granted mornings and I’m sorry, Karma. It was wrong. I stretched under the electric blanket, slowing waking and remembering, and my arms and back screamed like I’d run a marathon or shoveled snow for six hours.
Puzzled, I lay for a moment, rubbing a protesting bicep – I’m pathetic, but not THAT pathetic – and realized I was sore from the effort of NOT reacting. Every muscle in my upper back and arms strained with the tension of holding my course in that millisecond of decision making and impact. Not to swerve can be the hardest thing.
I know it’s morbid, but it seems a bit apt right now. Life’s speed is fast. And it’s not in any way that I think we should plow blindly over obstacles in our path, especially not living creatures, but there are times when the greatest danger is in the swerve.
I registered Nater Skater – my very last baby – for Kindergarten on Monday with barely a tear, or a thought, and nary a seven paragraph angst-ridden blog post. He will not go to Christian Kindergarten for a year first. He will not start public school at six like his siblings. Thrown to the wolves at five, my sweet baby will be, if by wolves we mean our sweet neighborhood elementary school. I had a moment of panic later in the day and dug manically through the trash for the First Pres registration, but then I poured another cup of coffee and a cookie and I remembered how very, very, very much I want to drop all four children at the same school at the same time next year. How tired I am of dividing each day into unproductive two hour blocks between program beginnings and ends. I kept the wheel straight. First star on the left and straight on til morning.
Graham’s court date was last Wednesday. I prepped the kids one last time, cuddling in our queen bed that morning. I thought the court would order placement transferred to the permanent home waiting for him and I didn’t want my kids to climb in the car after school to an unexpectedly empty car seat. The commissioner was thoughtful, and the agency attorney was prepared, and I was objectively impressed with the entire process. But subjectively – emotionally – the hearing painted the whole heartbreaking picture in staggering relief against the wood benches and somber, judicious paneling. Graham’s Person struggling so hard to show s/he can be stable enough to raise him. His possible adoptive parents wanting him so much to be with them, and start to adjust to what might be his forever home. And this baby and I caught in a weird suspended middle place - a temporary no decision land where no one really wants to admit lives the only mother and the only family he knows.
He was tired and overwhelmed and refused every set of arms but mine with an open-mouthed howl and an angrily arched back, and then quieted for me only if I stood rocking in that steady sway we all have ingrained somewhere deep in our genetic memories. If only babies could be placed in suspended animation, their hearts and growth and bonds frozen during the wait and see.
But that’s not the way life works. It’s full speed ahead and careful to swerve only if we are certain we can keep control of the vehicle or we’ll end upside down in a ditch.
I brought him home with me from the hearing. For now. Again, for now. He learned to crawl on Saturday while I was gone, with his in-the-middle daddy and his in-the-middle siblings there to see. They cheered him on just the same.
My forty-first birthday is tomorrow. The day our almost-baby should have been one. I feel only passing sadness, the loss now of a road not taken, not a gaping wound, but I don’t think I’ll ever count my years without counting her shadow years beside them.
I’m keeping things on course, even if, some mornings, my arms are a little sore.