“Who needs the beach when we have paradise right here at home?” I thought wryly, cleaning up the sticky breakfast dishes.
It was spring break in the district where I taught. Due to recent teacher furlough days and the fact that my husband hadn’t seen a pay hike in two years, a trip to the beach was out of the question this year.
“Bon Voyage,” I’d told Karen on Friday as we locked our classroom doors. She was on her way to cruising the Caribbean. The adverse economy hadn’t the same impact on everyone.
I wasn’t overly jealous because my husband took the week off to “vacation” at home with us, and I loved carefree days home with the kids. The weather hinted of an early Georgia spring and I, having high hopes for the week, pulled on my big girl pants. There would be plenty of future trips to the beach, I assured myself.
We needed a week together with not much on the agenda. I imagined leisurely picnics in the backyard and walks to the nearby park as we made memories with our children. And we did have a one-day out of town adventure planned that involved a discovery museum and petting zoo. Doesn’t get much better.
But the idyllic week envisioned wasn’t going as planned. Hubby spent the first part of the week on a ladder, scraping and repainting the house, and we’d barely laid eyes on him. Today he tackled the yard, clearing away the debris left behind by winter. Slightly irritated with his drivenness, I washed the vegetables for tonight’s dinner when we’d inaugurate the grill for another season.
So much for the daydream I’d entertained about the moment: my man seasoning my perfectly rounded burgers as I held a glass of wine to his lips, our favorite soft rock playing in the background.
“Mommy!” shrieked my oldest from the bathroom, breaking my reverie.
What now. Too much togetherness had led to petty squabbles all morning, and I’d refereed quite a few of them already.
I entered the bathroom and watched the commode’s overflow soak the once-fluffy bath mat. My toddler flashed me a blissful smile, a look of success crossing his face, as he repeatedly pulled the handle to flush away whatever he’d tossed in the wonderful receptacle this time. Through wails, his sister told me it was the head of her Barbie Doll.
I envied my husband’s Zen-like state as he wheeled off another load of sticks and stones, his skin glistening with sweat, his eyes filled with purpose.
After settling the mishap with promises of a new doll, I gathered my three for a walk to the neighborhood playground. Now, back at home, the house was peaceful. Baby boy slept at last while older daughter enthralled younger sister by dancing last year’s recital piece decked out in ballet garb.
Romantic notions about the evening dimmed, I decided to be productive and do some laundry. I pulled a fresh load of play clothes from the dryer and began the tedious task of folding and stacking. As each pile grew, the individuality of my children emerged. The oldest, seeking self-identity in fashion, owned the wackiest collection. Middle Child refused anything except girl colors, so her stack revealed a rainbow of pinks and purples. Toddler boy lived in t-shirts and jeans.
I held one of his shirts now, a favorite worn just yesterday. The garment was streaked with grape juice prior to washing, and I examined in now. The stain was gone. A wave of contentment swept over me, and I pressed my son’s warm shirt to my face, inhaling its pleasant scent.
And I had an epiphany. I was experiencing the love my mother described in a poem she wrote when I was 14. I’d asked my mom what love meant to her because I was writing a poem about love. I’d seen an ad in Seventeen Magazine by a diamond company announcing a poetry contest. The winner would receive a ring from the company’s new Starlight collection. I wanted that twinkling ring. My mom’s response didn’t help me at all at the time because her idea of love didn’t mesh with mine. But today, I got it.
No longer concerned with finishing the laundry, I left the neat stacks to search for the childhood memory. After a few minutes of rifling though a desk drawer, the poem was, for the first time, mine:
Sometimes love is one red rose, Sometimes love is orange blossoms, starlight, and a diamond ring.
But oft times than not, love is plain everyday, Like potatoes boiled, mashed, or baked;
Like clean clothes on the line, A bandage on a cut finger, or just a family gathered ‘round.
As a teenager, the poem struck me as incredibly corny, and I viewed my mother, perhaps for the first time, as terribly out of touch. But today the valiant effort to blend my concept of love with hers, to bridge the generational divide, is evident. She had arrived at a point in life when love for the family and home ran deeper than romantic love, while I clung tightly to the romance promised in the glossies.
My mother died shortly after she wrote “Love Is,” but I was able to connect with her many years later in a big way through our poem. Words really are eternal.
Hungry for the sight of my husband, I moved to the window. My eyes found him, now wielding a hole-digger in the afternoon sun. Sans his shirt, he still presented decent biceps as he pressed the digger into the hardened earth. I took him a glass of cold lemonade.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Digging twelve holes for twelve azalea bushes,” he told me.
His crooked brow suggested that his task should be obvious. The pink-blossomed shrubs clustered nearby, still in pots, waiting for their new home. He seemed intent to resume work, so I headed inside.
“One for each year we’ve been married,” he called after me, sheepishly.
I stopped and turned around in surprise. That he could still manage to astonish me made my heart sing. I skipped back to kiss him.
“Who needs one red rose when you have twelve pink azaleas?” I asked, squinting up at him.
Puzzled, he went back to digging as I walked on clouds back inside.
That evening, with family gathered ‘round the wooden picnic table, I dished out potatoes, mashed. I smiled as my freshly showered husband batted away a gnat. Another day in paradise, I thought. This time I meant it because there’s no place I’d rather be than with this family wiping up a glass of spilt milk.