Some days are harder than others. Some days Husband says he’ll be home from hospital rounds at Noon and he doesn’t appear until 5. Some days the boys wake by 6, and all at once, before coffee. Sometimes there are several tantrums before 7, spilled oatmeal, resistance to wearing pants, sibling spats, and missed naps.
In the grand scheme of things, all No Big Deal. But still. Some days are harder than others.
Saturday was one of those days.
Hours stretched out before us, with no plans. After a morning at the local park, the boys painted their nails “teal” on the front stoop (yep), and we found ourselves at home…restless and defiant. By the time they’d made a “soup” of all the pillows and toys and diapers and sundry items around the house on the landing at the foot of the basement stairs, I’d had it. There was some (ok, maybe a lot of?) yelling, no listening, tears at the kitchen table (mine), and an exasperated sense of surrender.
Then a funny thing happened. We took a drive. (I’d like to say we walked, but this time, it was a drive, spent as we were.)
I corralled my three boys and, in various states of undress, we set out, blinking hard as the midday sun hit our eyes. The breathtakingly perfect sky and crisp, warm air seemed to mock the disarray we had left behind.
We piled into our well-loved (read: filthy) Dodge Grand Caravan.
And we drove. To nowhere.
I instinctively turned on the radio at high volume. But this day, my middle son objected, requesting “quiet time.” So instead we rolled down the windows and listened to the sounds of our city.
There was life on every corner. Street fairs and flea markets, women with green eyebrows and black nails peddling knick-knacks, men in muscle tees selling suits hung from park fences, heavily-accented vendors chatting amongst each other and with the infrequent customer.
A drum parade marched down gritty Market Street, horse-drawn carriages plodded through the picturesque historic district, multiethnic tourists slow-walked absently across its intersections, a rowdy bridal party passed our window as we were stopped at a red light – “congrats” we called out; they waved.
The boys’ senses were heightened: bucket trucks engaged in a roof repair, the sun danced on the Delaware River, a band played music at a local carnival, the pungent smell of fresh produce and meats filled the Italian Market…
We drove down busy commercial streets, teeming with teens in big hair and booty shorts, arm awkwardly in arm with their baseball-capped beaus; residential streets dotted with blonde families and fresh-faced, well-dressed, skipping children who (in my mind anyway) hadn’t been yelled at today—or maybe ever; and quiet alleys with serene, stately houses and hanging vines—all beauty and wealth and no sign of life.
Noise and hum returned as we reached the poorer residential neighborhoods, featuring post offices and gas stations, dry cleaners and fast-food joints; kids pushing kids in strollers, cars parked in the median, and people on every stoop.
Beer festivals, outdoor dining, open houses, and moving trucks.
We drove through the streets of this city we love; this city we’ll leave…
I was overcome by how much life was pulsing through this place on this glorious pre-summer afternoon, just beyond our four walls…
As we passed a baseball game played by kids not much older than mine, I felt a pang of recognition that our days of unscheduled bliss are numbered. Not long from now, we will contend with back-to-back this-and-that, commitments, conflicts, and carpools—pulling us in different directions, away from each other.
Tethered as I may sometimes feel, there is a simplicity, an ironic freedom to this time with my young children. Initially, I was envious of the carefree twenty-somethings we passed on our way, dining streetside at cafés I once patronized. But then I turned my attention inward, to the little beings in my backseat. Safely secured, under one roof. Together.
With every block we traveled, their empathy slowly returned, as did my patience. My oldest gestured at a coffee shop, thoughtfully suggesting I get some. We saw the ice cream truck, but the boys accepted that we were only driving by, not stopping to purchase. I told them stories of how my grandparents would often take their three sons for drives back in the 1950s Midwest. “Were they going somewhere? Did they drive as long as we are?” I didn’t know.
When the older boys dozed off, I pulled over to write these words.
We drove for so long that we were able to pick up Husband at the end of his shift. When we finally met up, “I’m sorry I look so disheveled,” was all I managed to say. “You look beautiful to me,” was his response.
I’m lucky and in love with my life. But there are hard days. And beautiful drives that take us out and pull us back in, all at once. You could say we escaped. But getting out was just what we needed to bring us back home.