When the boys were very young we used to take them to a nearby community college during evenings and weekends. It was one of those Just Get Out of the House outings, less about the activity itself and more about, well, getting out of the damn house. The grounds were overrun with small brown rabbits; we’d try and make a game out of spotting them. When they were a bit older the boys teetered along on bikes, or maybe it was just Riley with his training wheels and Dylan still Godzilla-toddling around.
I can remember sitting in one of the courtyards while the kids played. I would stretch out on a picnic table and feel the sun on my face. The birds wheeling and calling overhead, the high-pitched laughter of my children.
Then maybe there was a lot of crying because someone fell and scraped a knee, or a frustrated, defeated retreat to the truck because someone else became inexplicably enraged about, say, the alignment of the planets. The great hassle of trying to get bikes or strollers put away, flailing children stuffed into carseats. Oh, it could all feel so exhausting and grim, back then.
I remember, quite well, how hard it was. But that’s not what my mind lingers on, when I think of those particular outings. I think of my kids running through an empty campus, thrilled with the exotic landscape of steps to be jumped and railings to be climbed. Their wide-open faces, the starfish-clutch of a small hand. The sun, the birds, the little rabbits that let you get so close.
I wish I’d known, during those sometimes-grueling early years, that it was perfectly okay not to enjoy every moment. That it wasn’t true that someday I would give anything to turn back the clock. That even the toughest days would be sent across the years like letters in a bottle, and when I opened them, I could read and re-read the very best parts.