Tonight, I wanted to run. I ran -- with my shopping tote, and my denim skirt, and my gold yard-sale Nikes, to Trader Joe's, for Easter candy and bread. It is three blocks away and I ran fast to make it back before dark and everywhere I smelled the jasmine and the lilac and the beautiful sweet warmth of spring and not-quite-rain in the air and I wanted so badly to run for miles, to keep going and not hurry back to the boys afterward but to have the husband at home to whom I could say, "put the boys to bed" and "I'll be back soon" and maybe even the dishes would be done when I returned, woozy and sweet from the inhalation and the exercise, sweaty and accomplished, limber and achey and all put back where I belonged.
Instead, I go home and we all do -- what do we do? -- we brush our teeth and we read our bits of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the two younger boys fall asleep and, as always now that he is not taking medication any more, the oldest asks to come to bed with me.
This is always how it is, for the week before and the week after, the comings and goings of a soldier husband and father. In all the other weeks, in all the other months, you see how it is and you set your jaw and if you are like me you do not count the days. You wake up in the morning and think, "I can do this!" and you put on a smile because this is the way that you can do this. There is no other path. If you are tired or desperate for a run or need candy for Easter baskets, you find a way to solo parent it through. If you must run and nothing else matters you will take your shoes and your cell phone and you will say, "call me if you need me," and you will run as fast as you can and not too far.
But my boys, they are on the top of that fence-rail that is "old enough" and "not quite," and I fear they might fall hard on the wrong side if I get too far, or if I have recently been visited by state officials or askance-looking friends. And so when my husband has left or when he is about to come back I anticipate or I remember all too keenly the freedom and authority I have with another adult in this life, in this house, an adult upon whom I can count perhaps not without question but at least with assurance that our sovereignty is dual, our guardianship is equal in legality and roughly equivalent in love.
In the throes of the 15-day leave there is nothing like an equilibrium or a one-state. There is a rush of the coming -- the not-knowing when it will be, the knowing and the planning and the decisions, who will come to the airport? How will we care for those left behind? Will there be a banner? And the setup, the rise of expectations and coming fun and then the inevitable boredom and exhaustion of either waiting at the airport or at home. He is home. He cannot sleep and he cannot eat (or he is absolutely starving but cannot eat that) and he smells of his travels and he is excited to be home and the next 18 hours are a buzz, buzz, BUZZ! until you want to scream, "go to sleep!" and he does not but he showers. He eats. He talks on the phone and again talks on the phone some more.
You go out; there is a babysitter and a taxi! and drinks and friends and enjoyment. And this is wonderful but the next five days or six days are more of the same, the impossibility of sleep in this place, the sleep between 4 a.m. and 10 a.m. or something like this that throws the whole family tizzily against itself, bouncing against walls and tiptoeing, "shhh!" and wondering when he will awake and start the fun.
You make plans. These plans, oh, should you have made them? The only thing you can guarantee is that first 24 hours. You should not have. You decide to do this the next day and the other thing, the next. The only thing you have is that ability -- if he is tired and the kids are covering him like a boulder for climbing and imagining into a mountain, a pirate ship -- to say, "I'll be back!" in an hour or two, to run or see friends for coffee or walk home from a grocery store smelling lilac and blossom and burst-into-spring.
In the middle you do something. You pack things and bundle children and even though it is raining still, raining for days, you pile into the car you have borrowed and drive to the Falls, and your four-year-old (you learn, how could you not have known this?) is terrified of heights and so you let them go, hiking up and up and around switchbacks one through 11, to the top, to the top, to the top of the falls, and then back again, back again, jiggety jolls. You spend an hour or more coaxing the little one bit by running-back-and-forth bit up over the low bridge and it is too high and you must carry him all the way down. You get ice cream and your husband argues with your oldest over his attitude and you want to cry all the way home, holding a melting ice cream cone, hungry, in the passenger seat in a just-filled car and all alone.
On Tuesday, you go out to dinner, a proper double-date, and it feels like a real marriage in a real life for two hours in wooden bench seats with a bottle of wine.
You go home, and the oldest is still up, and they stay up still later watching movies and organizing baseball cards.
That whole week he tells the oldest he does not have to go to school and he tells the middle one he does not have to go to school on his last day here and of course! You were crazy to think he should not stay home! And spend all the minutes in which their wakeful hours overlap, together. But you know how long it takes, to restore balance, and every night your oldest stays up even later and he wakes too early and wakes your youngest and they sit watching shows about survival and superpowers, wide-eyed and weepy from lack of sleep. And your husband's stomach begins to boil again, boil and boil, and you take a deep breath when he tries to treat it with Tums and you know he will throw up if you offer him egg salad and so it goes. You stay up late with him and you get up early (so early!) with him and he leaves, you say goodbye and I love you and he leaves and no one has slept for days. It is 4:35 a.m. on a Friday and you sleep through everything and do you mourn? You do.
And now it is not even 48 hours later, and I have hung carrot garlands made of paper in the dining room and it is bedtime, barely later than regular this-is-our-life bedtime and I am helping the oldest fall asleep. I have made some comment about wanting him to learn about the Bible even if he is a skeptic and he has no desire to go to church -- I'm certainly not making him -- just because it is the basis of so much. I have been thinking about this. How all literature stems from it. How all this mythology and religion color even the cartoons and the Harry Potter. He should know.
So we lie in bed and I tell him stories, how Jesus was thought to be the "King of the Jews!" and the heaven-sent leader of a salvation and how people took this the way (with Biblical hindsight) it was not intended. How they thought it would be bloody; how they thought he would overthrow the Romans. And we speak of Romans, and Caesar Augustus, and how Pontius Pilate washed his hands. How the people turned on this man they'd loved only days before. How they hung him up and then, days later, saw that his body was gone -- how women did it, went to his tomb and found that he had been taken, and they were so sad and then, impossibly! Miraculously! They found that he was risen!
And we listen to Belle and Sebastian and he goes to sleep and I sit in my bed, to browse Pinterest, to ponder things, to wish things, to fall asleep more or less alone.
And as I fall asleep I am thinking about it all, about tradition, about pomp and circumstance, about family time and the pull and yield-to-pulling, about how much excitement there is and then, later, the letdown; about how we create myth and magic, solemnity and celebration, to help us think that we are not alone, that love and belonging follows us through our lives and the world and up into the air in metal planes and across the pavement in rubber-soled shoes.