Our Mayberry Life
As a mother, I have a very special opportunity and that is to create what I hope constitutes an idyllic childhood. I have the chance to experience things that I wish had been a part of my own childhood—and the privilege of watching the wonder fill my daughters’ eyes as they get to experience these things. For example, I’d always imagined picking apples in Summer was a timeless, idyllic thing to do. I dreamed of having memories like that, of being in the orchard and getting to pluck crisp apples from the branches, take them home and help my mom make them into apple pies. But it was just that: a dream. Up until my oldest daughter was about four years old, I had no idea people could still visit orchards. I only knew that, when I pictured perfect childhood, picking apples was on the Childhood Bucket Wish List. So I looked it up. And I found the most beautiful place called Pratt’s Orchard. It’s a ways out but they are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet–and they have the best orchard.
We went there today and picked apples for a couple hours in the sweltering heat. Instead of worrying about taking pictures as I normally do, I left the phone in the car on purpose. We filled out bags and made up stories about the apples. My oldest kept wanting to talk about Snow White and how these apples we picked looked shiny and perfect too. We imagined how sweet they would be once they were well washed and ready to eat. Even my youngest, Alight, who, when she gets over-heated, gets grumpy didn’t want to leave. We had full bags and yet we lingered, enjoying the sense of time-out being in the country afforded us.
When it was finally time to head out, we decided to take the long way back home. The girls told me where to turn. Since we don’t go this far out in Lebanon very much, truly, we were lost. I did have my trusty phone with its scarily accurate GPS system… but I deliberately left it off. We ended up…. I’m not sure where we were, tell you the truth. All I know is that it was far off the map. No gas station, very few homes, lots of pastures. Finally, as a long time started to make us all tired, we turned around and I resorted to using the GPS to helping me find my way to the interstate.
Once home, though, the afternoon of adventures continued. I planned on making apricot chicken and blanched broccoli with rolls for dinner; that turned into a three hour comic show that involved two trips to the same grocery store, terrifyingly close encounters with awful things known as lobsters, a (deliberately) flooded bathroom, a time capsule and, finally, that apricot chicken that started it all. It was a crazy afternoon.
By the time we were sitting down, enjoying the dinner and finally relaxing after a busy day, my mind kept going back to one thing: the time capsule.
We started the capsule by asking the girls what such a thing is. They gave me a very good definition of it, to which I added, “It’s a place to keep memories. One day, when we’re older, we can open it up and its contents will remind us of a part of who we are today. So when you go to pick out the items you want to put in the time capsule, think about things that you do a lot or that are super fun or special to you; that way, when we open in years from now, you will be able to think of really special things.”
They went on a “treasure hunt” of sorts throughout the house, deciding on which items to put in the time capsule. They decided that, since they do some form of art every day (we even have full-fledged Picasso Days, during which painting our skin is perfectly acceptable), they wanted to put a drawing they did into the box. So they each chose a picture they have recently colored, dated it and put it in along with two crayons. They also decided that since we absolutely love baby dolls, they wanted to put something in to remind them of baby dolls: they settled on putting a baby doll outfit in the box. Every day, at three o’clock the ice cream man comes by. Every day that we’re home at three o’clock, we wait for him (it was another idyllic childhood dream). Today, they each got a Strawberry Shortcake ice cream; they had eaten the ice cream and the ice cream sticks were on the table. Instead of reminding them to throw them away, we got them and wrote “We love the ice cream man!” on them, then put them in the capsule. Alight wanted to put in a penny that came from her cash register because “money matters.” I queried whether they thought pennies would even be used anymore years from now. My oldest daughter’s heart sings when she hears music; much as it does for me, music means something very dear to her. So we found a CD we don’t listen to very much and put it in the capsule to remind us of how much we love all music. They both wanted to put in something from the doctor’s kit because that same doctor’s kit has been with us since Breathe was very small and because we really love their pediatrician, Dr. Ladd. So, in went a “needle” from the kit. They each wrote a note; Breathe wrote that she loves playing with her imaginary friends every day and Alight wrote that every day is “so happy.” Then, together, we wrote a “Time Capsule Note.” We wrote how much a bag of chocolate kisses costs today, and a gallon of milk. And we pledged not to open the time capsule until July 11, 2033. Twenty years is forever away when you’re six and nine.
It made me think about memories in general and what I might put into a time capsule if I were doing one by myself. Pictures, a Bible, earphones to symbolize music, the tape recorder that has the girls’ talking on it, a piece of Lambie’s fur, a blue Bic pen. A handful of precious mementos small enough to fit into a box that summarize my whole life. I didn’t really make a time capsule of my own tonight but I did gather up all of the items that I would have put in one. As I looked at them, I was reminded of what really matters.
I’ve got a difficult doctor’s appointment tomorrow and another one on Monday. And sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in fear and in the nightmares. One day, I’ll have to write about why I really cannot sleep. It’s easy to get caught up in activities. It’s easy to worry about money and sometimes the weight of responsibility is staggering. For me in particular, it’s easy to get overwhelmed in trying to be everything to everyone at all times. For me in particular, sometimes it’s hard to keep a lid on the control, to smile when I’d rather cry. We grown-ups, and our emotions, tend to get complicated.
But if I can just stay focused on what really matters and let everything else just be, my life suddenly seems simple again, and easily manageable. Being poked dozens of times just to draw blood isn’t important; what is important is that I stay healthy for my daughters. There are no such things as “bad days”, not really, not if, at the end of it, I get to kiss them goodnight and watch the sun set over the lake, because nothing that was “bad” during the day robbed me of the ability to love or care for my family. What’s paramount is that, should I die before I wake, the last words I spoke to others were gentle and filled with gratitude; may they be words of love. When my head feels set to explode and my heart ready to cave, I close my eyes and take a really deep breath, remind myself that life isn’t a rat race; there is no harm in slowing down.
Unlocked front doors and days of letting our children roam around the neighborhood unattended all day are gone. But idyllic childhoods are not. Orchards still exist, beautiful countrysides still exist. Fathers still go fishing with their sons and, Aria, they still dance with their daughters. Families still eat supper together in some homes; marriages can still make it til death do they part. I know this because, even though the world may have changed, we still have hearts and minds capable of understanding the value of things like hard work and loyalty. The memories that I want to remember in twenty years have nothing to do with bitterness, pain or resentful and everything to do with laughter, love and family. Today was full of unexpected twists and turns. I didn’t plan on my daughter practically convulsing in the middle of Publix because she knew we were walking down an aisle that led to a lobster tank. I didn’t plan on my bathroom floor being deliberately flooded (again). I didn’t plan on those things. But instead of getting angry, we laughed. Cleaning the bathroom that was ankle-deep in water didn’t frustrate me; instead, it reminded me that I have children in the house and that filled me with such a profound sense of gratitude that I didn’t care about the mess. My apricot chicken was a little more burned than perfect but, as we ate it anyway, I couldn’t help but remember that the reason it was that way was because I’d been outside, burying a time capsule for my children. I dug the hole with a spoon and my fingernails. And I did it because that box contains priceless treasures of symbols that represent things my little girls care about. And, actually, the over-done chicken just played another role in our day, a role that we’re already laughing about. Because we know that a burnt dinner is irrelevant while preserving memories is not, should we not wake tomorrow.
I’m not exempt from fear. I’m not exempt from disappointment. I’m not exempt from stress. Or bills. Or anything anyone else faces. I’m just too busy finding joy in today to care.