There is a redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front. And behind the black front door at number 58:
“Ssshhh,” I whispered as I tiptoed passed their bedroom. They ignored me.
“Boys. BOYS! Sssshhhhhh.” My teeth hurt I clenched them so hard. “The baby’s sleeping,” I rasped at them. “SSHHHHH.”
The forceful sibilance twisted its way around the back of my neck in a painful spasm. My neck was stretched so taut I thought my head would snap right off any minute. It would snap off and roll into the room and land in the space between them. They would look at my scary flashing eyes and the ugly, angry scowl on my face and kick my head straight through the window, shattering glass and decibels all over the floor.
They would not, could not hear me.
The doorbell rang. The dog barked. The baby wailed. So did I.
“Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!!” I think I yelled it. My throat hurt so I must have yelled it.
I don’t remember who was at the door, but the dog was still barking and the baby was still crying and, “Juice, Mommy, juice!” She had tried to do it herself and there was apple juice on the floor and in her shoes and dripping onto the cucumbers in the fridge.
The tension marched up and down my spine like an army of angry red ants, gathering in a pinching, hurting cluster along my shoulders. My blood boiled with unexplained rage, or rather perfectly explained rage: all I needed were two hours of quiet so the baby could nap. Two hours. In a 12-hour day packed full of fun and activity and “Dora the Explorer” and crackers and a gazillion sippy cups full of apple juice, were two calm, drama-free hours too much to ask for? Obviously yes, if you’re three, six and eight. And then the dog peed on the rug. GODDAMMIT.
The doors are all closed. The dog snoozes in the corner, too old and worn out to hear the doorbell anymore. I hear the TV turn on downstairs and someone is playing the drums in the boys’ room.
From the quiet of my bedroom I look out the window at the giant redwood tree, the green fronds of its branches reaching up to the baby blue sky. Like my own babies reached up to me from their cribs after naps, arms outstretched.
It has grown in the last nine years, this majestic tree.
I didn’t notice while I was nursing and changing diapers and shushing infants to sleep and siblings to keep quiet. While I was overwhelmed by mothering and what felt like too many little children eating and yelling and playing and sleeping. And growing. In this house. Number 58. Behind the black front door, with the big redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front.
I didn’t notice.
I didn’t notice the rage, that bubbling, boiling rage, slowly reduce to a gentle simmer. To a soft heat that flared only occasionally when a now tween-age boy talked back or rolled his eyes, when an inquisitive little girl experimented with lipstick not only on her own person but on every bathroom surface, or when an impulsive toddler found a marker in the minivan and decorated the car seats.
As the redwood tree moved ever upward in silence, I didn’t quite notice that the stretches of peace and quiet lasted longer and longer. They could write their own names and fix their own snacks, shoot baskets outside and read to each other. Slowly, imperceptibly, over nine tumultuous years Mommy became Mom, and the fiery cauldron of overwhelming and angry fatigue quietly ceased bubbling on a burner in my belly… and then there were no more babies behind the black front door at number 58.
No more babies, but a teen, a couple of tweens and a little boy who stares up in awe. “Is this a redwood tree?”
This summer we say goodbye to the house we’ve grown up in. I stare out my bedroom window and listen. There is no rage rushing through my veins, no sssshhhh hissing from my lips. There are muted voices gently bouncing off the walls and an old dog snores softly in the corner.
And there is a very tall redwood tree stretching silently up to the sky in the back.