We went out this weekend to help Betty Duffy celebrate her birthday in style at her parents' house in rural Indiana. The weather was perfect, cool and temperate, the breeze rustling the drying leaves as the children wandered barefoot near the house or in tall boots down to the creek in search of chub minnows. A pair of small white puppies tumbled around the porch, happily gnawing each other's faces, and though I admired them I steadfastly resisted all pressing to take one home with me. Puppies belong outside, at someone else's house, no matter how much pleading eleven-year-old daughters may bring to bear.
Almost as pleasant as being in good company was sitting in comfort. Standing around grows increasingly difficult for me, and will only get harder over the next ten weeks, so nestling down in a leather couch with my feet on an ottoman, drinking lemonade while non-gestating adults worked through several varieties of craft beer and homebrew was blissful. Solving all the internet's problems never felt so good, especially when the solutions involve more personal interaction and more beer.
I forget how dark it gets in the country. That night, as I turned off the lamp, I was suddenly blind. The darkness literally pressed against my eyes -- perhaps it was the result of straining to see anything, but the pressure of the blackness was palpable. Of course it wasn't really pitch-black, as I discovered when I closed my eyes long enough to acclimate to the dark. It was starlit. Real starlight, from glowing field of stars such as I haven't seen since I was a girl in rural Virginia. It was almost enough to make me want to up and move out to the country myself, except that then I might be expected to keep a dog.
In the morning the kids roasted marshmallows and ran through the sprinkler in whatever old swimsuits could be scrounged up from the catch-all chests. My maternal heart lurched to see these children hovering on the edge of adolescence: Betty's big handsome boys running around shirtless, and my tall girls, just developing, in their too snug borrowed suits, all still on this side of childhood, oblivious so far to each other's bodies, just out there to splash around and lob water balloons, all equals yet in mischief and partners in crime. I know this time will end, and soon, but I'm holding on gratefully to this innocence even as my two oldest are growing and changing and raiding my shoe closet because they keep growing out of their own pairs. Even as my own body is painfully distorted and swollen out of recognition by the demands of new life, my daughters are on the verge of their own physical blossoming. At 34, I'm even on the youngish side to have girls so grown-up, but we're matched in accelerated development: right now I feel older than my years, and they look older than theirs.
We experienced the less introspective side of bodies as well this weekend, when my 7-year-old wailed that she couldn't brush the spider off her tummy, and it turned out to be a tick burrowed head-deep. I was at a bit of a loss, not having confronted a tick since I was her age and pulling them out of my hair after my own romps in the tall grass, but Betty was equal to this and all situations and removed the thing like a pro. A flurry of hair and stomach checks followed while the kids gleefully faked each other out ("What's that on your back?"). Fortunately, all else was clear -- I'm a champion de-louser if it comes to that, but I don't really want to be pulling big swollen ticks off scalps.
And joy of joys, everyone fell asleep on the way home and left Darwin and me to three good hours of conversation not underscored by the current favorite music compilation. Funny how the joys of having a family are often deepened by having most of the family asleep. How good it is when sisters snooze in harmony, and how good it is to talk to adults, as adults, and how good it is to see the seasons on the cusp of change.