the cruellest month.

An old literature teacher once put it thus; when your arm is numb, you don’t feel it. But when the blood flows again, and the pins and needles come, suddenly you know about it.

Spring really snuck up on me this year. I mulched hurriedly one free evening, between a rushed Lowe’s trip and baby drop-off. On the way home from work I realized “Oh no, it’s warm. I should have already planted and mulched.” So it was off to get some replacement herbs and the usual black-stained wood shavings and get back to the ranch.

This is like second nature now, this little yearly ritual of brushing away the last of the dead leaves and readying the front and back yards for future clam-bakes. Get one of those noisy metal pull-carts, load it up with wet, gross bags of mulch. Add too many extra plants to the stack on the way out. Laboriously drag it all back to the car. Load the bags into the car. Drive home past the pumpkin patch and think about Halloween. Park near the back gate and lift, drag, and cajole some bags into various quadrants of the backyard. Move the car to the front. Hoist the remaining bags onto what’s left of last year’s herb garden. Stab at the ground, remove lifeless twigs, stuff the newness in. Slice the bags and spread the mulch. Label the spice markers with a fresh coat of chalk. Call out the names of the little saints that live in the garden. “Mint.” “Cilantro.” “Basil.” “Oregano.” “Sage.” “Rosemary.” Finish up in the sallow yellow glow of the street lights. Scrub your hands and get ready to receive the prancing little preschooler who sashays up at full volume, pizza on her breath.

I’m settling into my two sets of routines okay. Give me some constraints, and I’ll work around them. Weekends without Morella are tinged with gloom but stuffed full of activity. What was life before her little feet running in the hallway? Try to remember. Evenings are full of possibility, and the tyranny of choice paralyzes me. I find a parking spot easily, I greet my friends, I plant myself in a seat. “What are you going to drink?” asks Jackee. “I don’t know,” I say. Finally I just pick something, and we talk about everybody’s week, and everybody is affirmed and understood and loved. I go home with happy laughter ringing in my ears. Mornings are luxurious, with time to pay attention to every heavenly piece of getting ready, with no interference or repeated entreaties for “anudder green pouch” from the next room. I go to supervise my girls at CHAT with their sewing project and ask them about their families and their plans, or I put on my boots and go for a long walk around the neighborhood, maybe stopping for an iced coffee or to read my book in one of the parks. I’m never sure if I want to run into people I know or not. The idea is equal parts pleasant and off-putting. I usually don’t run into anybody, and the walk is deeply satisfying either way. The act of not being in a rush is the last indulgence of our time, and feels like some minor, secret rebellion. I savor it. Still, some parts of these weekends stick out like spines, the parts that were imposed instead of dreamed about. I’m like the citizens of Guernsey, wondering when the occupation will end but trying to live in spite of it.

* * *

Weekends with Morella are the full-color, nonstop, delightful circus they’ve always been. Errands made hilarious by a tiny, bossing companion who’s just discovered how to ride hanging onto the back of the shopping cart. Sharing a bowl of our favorite soup as our reward for completing said errands (we used to share a cup and I would eat 2/3 of it, now we share a bowl and I only get 1/3 of it). Finishing the bedtime routine by the brute force of threatening no brunch with the family the next day. Getting chased around by an uncle (apparently a “bad wolf”) at said brunch, and building blanket forts. Going to an aquarium and peering at snakes and turtles in the afternoon, and following it up with a cracker-snacking nature hike.

We had the best day at Busch Gardens on Sunday (the first trip of the season, yay), and it deserves its own paragraphs. After running appropriately amok and riding a ton of rides with her cousin (including her first rollercoaster), Morella ate a big lunch. Mom and Dad kindly watched the girls so that my brother and I could ride Griffon, which I’ve only ridden a couple of times ever because of pregnancy and then just being a single mom with a stroller in tow. I got an instant headache toward the bottom of the first drop, and it was worth it. When I returned, I grabbed Morella and put her right in her stroller and said “You’re going to rest now, and when you wake up we can have some more fun.” She said “Okay,” lifted her arm up, and pulled the shade down over her face. Haha. None of the usual protestations. Walking the family out of the park (they had to leave before us), Drew bent down to peek in and see if she was asleep already, but couldn’t tell because of her sunglasses. So he waved at her and saw her smile just a little bit around her thumb. She sat up a little to say goodbye to the family, then smiled every time I peeked at her as we walked to find a quiet spot. “Do you want me to keep walking or just stay here?” I whispered as we sat between the stables and the Loch Ness Monster. “I want you to stay here.” So I caught up on the internet and drank my water. When a group of tweens in short shorts and straightened hair scampered by, one of them saying “Oh my gawd, Sarah Beth. You are nawt helping,” another mom nearby made eye contact with me, and we grinned.

I did a couple of laps around the park. It was sunny and sublime, and I put my headphones in and listened to the World’s Okayest Moms podcast (woop woop Hayley!). An elderly lady asked me if she could trade places with M, who was snoozing soundly under a blanket, and I laughed. I wandered in and out of the little stores. The shop in “France” was full of Eiffel Tower-emblazoned home tchotchkes, and there was a huge group of actual french people crowded around the wine tasting counter in “France,” laughing and buying multiple bottles of bordeaux and champagne, and drinking it right there. Busch Gardens is already surreal for me and I’ve gone there all my life; I can’t imagine what it must be like for them. It was crowded there so I moved along to “Germany.” The very sweet lady tasked with doling out wine tastings here in the, uh, Rhineland, said “I’m going to rinse your glass out now because I’m switching from white to red.” Okay. Okay, yes, thank you. I wiped my lip gloss off and she noticed, and apologized for not being the usual person who knows all the “facts” about the wines, so I just shrugged and smiled and avoided asking questions about the two sweet rieslings and what was basically a dessert wine. Haha. I looked at a bunch of cuckoo clocks on the walls.

When Morella woke it was time for snack, and for getting in line to watch Elmo dance around in “Elmo Rocks!” It was her first time at something like this, so I didn’t know if she was going to love it or burst into tears. But she loved it, and she clapped her hands and gazed in awe and waved to Elmo and Abby and seemed to think it was totally normal when Cookie Monster rapped (“I say ‘chocolate,’ you say ‘chip.’ Chocolate! (Chip!) Chocolate! (Chip!)” etc.) Bert and Ernie definitely did a rendition of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” Oh yes they did.

Afterward I said “Do you want to ride the swings or the airplanes now?” She said “I wanna go in the dragon house. RAR!” So it was back to the Land of the Dragons for a while. They had one poor teenager running two separate rides, so it was kind of a bust. Then I asked if she wanted to try my favorite ride, which is the log flume. “Yes!” I was so happy to finally be able to ride it again, and there was no line at all. She said “Oooh I yike riding on dis float,” and was a champ even through the drop at the end. We got out of it with only a little mist in our hair, and she gleefully insisted on pushing the stroller around by herself for a while. “I smell a doughnut,” she kept saying as we passed by a place that sold funnel cake. I didn’t tell her about funnel cake. That magical discovery can be saved for another time.

As we were making our way toward the exit it was the golden hour, and I pointed out how perfect a little field of tulips looked along the orange horizon. She started trying to climb out of the stroller and I said “What are you doing?!” She said “I need to go pick them.” And that’s so her right now. Wanting to grab and possess every last drop of novelty, and caring not a button for who planted the flowers, and whether they want the flowers to stay there, and whether there will be flowers for us to see the next time we pass that spot. “But I want to pick them,” she says. And that appears to be all the permission she needs. 🌷 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

On the way home she was in her pajamas and snuggled up with her blanket, and was supposed to be sleeping. Halfway to Richmond she piped up in the backseat:

“Mommy, I’m feeling sad.”
“Why, baby?”
“Because the sun set, and I don’t want it to.”

We talked about it a little bit more and I explained that the sun always has to go down for a little while at the end of the day, but that it always comes back up again, and that she can see it first thing in the morning. But I think it just boiled down to her not wanting to let this day end. And I can’t argue with that. Maybe I was a little sad the sun was setting, too.

* * *

I think the reason spring snuck up on me so swiftly is that I was not done with winter yet. I was enjoying that hibernation period that happens after New Year’s and before all the bustle of warmer weather kicks in. I’m glad it’s going to be cold again for a couple of weeks, because I can still indulge in some wintry indoor tasks like household reorganizing, and mending ripped leggings and broken necklaces, and doing kids’ yoga routines with Morella on the playroom floor, and sitting with my laptop and some tea on the couch, researching new hikes to go on. Then when the time comes we will of course twirl around on the front stoop and walk to the ice cream shop and meet up with friends at the playground and all that jazz.

Anyway, for now here I am, back in my candlelit room, clacking away again. It’s amazing how I never get sick of writing, even when it’s about nothing in particular. Even when I’m just typing to stave off the howling wilderness that is memory loss. Maybe especially then.


2 thoughts on “the cruellest month.

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