In the morning, it is easy.
Or, it is not easy, being here, at home with these three boys and a husband far away. When it is hard, it blazes out, hot and dizzy and no rational thought can penetrate my thick, yeasty skull. My sinuses blouse with blood, angry; my eyes blear; I want to throw myself into a cool river, sewage or no, I want to lie spread-eagled on the kitchen floor and sob. Too much, too much! I harangue, I bluster; I wail to my heathen soul.
It is easy in the long, winding wisping string of time. It is not easy in the moments. It is in the moments when I hear my eldest, suddenly scattering into a shellfish-like froth, kicking and writhing in an agony of mosquito-bite itches, just as I have found that quiet hummmm of focus to complete a thought, or just as I have picked up a particularly delicious piece of chocolate, or just as I have begun to chop an onion. I take my breath, I say, "I'm sorry, sweetie, I know how that feels," even though I have twice the mosquito bites, I empathize, but his undoneness exhausts me.
It is in the close focus that I can see the grime, grime everywhere, in the corners of the baseboards and the tops of the windowframes, on the windows and the peeling-painted doorjambs, on the shins and fingernails and dimples of my boys. The cars have been kicked across the kitchen, again, by an angry boy (or two, on one day); they are under the dishwasher that does not work, they are nestled between the filthy garbage can and the filthier dustpan; they are behind the compost bucket. There are holes in the walls, where the plaster has fallen or been ripped to expose wiring or has been punched or just picked at, bit by ancient bit, by little fingers. There are weeds, weeds everywhere, bursting up between my strawberry plants and around my garlic and through the neighbor's fence and among the piled branches and despite the hard gravelly clay and through the woodchips and in great patches and strips in the wildest parts of my backyard. The tomatoes in the back are thirsty; the peach tree looks parched to death; the blueberries are choked by the raspberries and the zucchini was trampled by generous helpers. I set out, some mornings, some afternoons, armed with garden gloves and watering cans, buckets of dirt and rags of vinegar or dish soap, shovels and brooms and dusting cloths, long-sleeved organic cotton shirts and floppy hats. I scrabble, I scrape, I scrub, I scrunch up my nose and wrinkle my brow and think, too much, too much! I, publican-like, beat my breast, cry out, not worthy! And inside, there are screams, high-pitched and ragged, I say to no one, "I'm coming, sweetie, what's wrong?" and do not go right away, there is another weed to pull, a bucket to return to its compost-pile, past-ripe raspberries to eat, straight from the bush, yearning, and only then do I go inside to negotiate this desperate struggle over a purple Hot Wheels snowmobile.
The boys are hungry, the clothes are dirty, the bills must be paid and the in-laws must be visited. The milk must be picked up, the playdates must be arranged, the cat food must be filled, filled again, filled again. None of this is negotiable, none of it is hard, unless I dwell on the must-ness of it all.
And yet. The mornings are easy. We rise to NPR and happy games of Legos and bowls of sweet cherries, the coffee is dark and sweet as love, the pace is slow and we have silliness, brightness, beauty too. The days are long and they are filled with surprises of joy, brotherliness, vanilla maple ice cream and blueberry jam and kind friends and sweet words. There are struggles and choler and long stretches of spitting swearing agony, but when they are over, when they are spent, the succubus is gone and a wise-beyond-his-years child looks at me, and says in his quietest and most understanding voice, "please try to be calm," when I have become angry, of all things, over spilt milk. I stomp about the house one more time and hug the littlest, apologize all around, clean up the milk and pour another glass and thank him, thank them, thank God.
When someone asks, I say, "I'm fine, I'm great!" because I am, because the boys save bacon for their brothers, because Everett's friends come over and look at me solemnly in gratitude when I ask, "do you want to eat that raspberry?", because the bicycle-wheel arbor is thick, dripping, tangled with grapes-to-be, because pedestrians laden with grocery bags slow down, stop, stare, point when they pass by our home, because my husband calls from his office in Camp Arafjan, Kuwait and we talk as if we were 20, still, because when evening comes the sun shines through the walnut leaves and into my kitchen in a way that lights my yellow bowl and my dining room table and my heart up like candles, because grace will see me through.