My current emotional state reminds me of something that happened in the depths of last winter. Though this September is a gift of perfect, gentle, sun-drenched days, it is my children who push back the fog.
February in Spokane is a black and white picture of serene winter neighborhoods, meant to be beautiful, but so forbidding. It hints of the start to a horror movie. The trees dressed in a thin layer of white, the walks icy, the fog thick and low and gray.
I stood beside our gray-blue minivan waiting for Saige and Garrett to emerge from after-school art class. As their overly loud voices hit me through the fog, two balloons caught my eye, ghosting past forty feet above my head. They forged a slow, deliberate path south over the roof of the school.
“Look, balloons!” I foolishly pointed out to the kids, but they had already faded into the gloom.
“I don’t see them! I can’t see them!” Quinn shrieked into the harsh air, straining against his five-point harness.
“They’re gone,” I told him. Sad that I had mentioned it. Sad about the day. Sad about the winter. Sad.
He screamed through buckling the other kids and shutting the door and shifting and setting sail on our four-solid-snow-tires-equipped raft into the sea of mist. Soon, I thought, there will be no small island left for life between the suffocating sky and the ground-dwelling clouds. That child in the red coat will wander across the school yard or a killer dressed in black with a bloody red knife. Or a red balloon.
Not all colors are as powerful as red. Only red can cut through. Spielberg and Shyamalan know this.
Turning the van around, I said, to settle them down: “They went that way. Do you think we could follow them?”
The fog closed the world down to one block on our gridded neighborhood streets. I drove around the school and then headed south, pausing to scan the sky and the trees, glancing down the side street at the first intersection. At the second stop sign, I turned right and headed for home, thinking how foolish it was to suggest this treasure hunt. The implied promise, broken, slowly drained my afternoon of any hope for an easy transition to dinner.
“I think they’re lost,” I said, still peering hopefully out the windows, “or maybe I didn’t see balloons at all.”
Are you expecting our gory end? Nah. This is actually just a neighborhood. A pretty, snow-covered, fog-drenched neighborhood.
“I SEE IT! I SEE THE BALLOON!”
There it was, alighted in the mud on the right hand curb. Not two balloons at all, but a huge Mylar butterfly with two inflated wings. The colors burned so bright against our white-washed world it hurt.
“There it is! I see it. I see it too. Get it. Get it, Mom!”
Caught in their excitement, disbelieving, I threw the van in park and grabbed our prize. It filled the entire back seat with crinkly, riotous ridiculousness and a burst of colorful laughter.
Unexpectedly, against all odds and all belief on my part, I’d waved my wand and worked magic.
The kids played with the balloon instead of watching TV while I made dinner and I swear to you that damn butterfly re-painted the color in our house and in their faces, warmer and richer and truer. It pushed back the black and white.
Or maybe I just re-opened my eyes.
Stacey Conner is raising four kids and a Great Dane with her husband, Matt, in the Pacific Northwest. She regrets the Great Dane, the rest are keepers. She writes about life’s joys and sorrows, big and small, at anymommyoutthere.com.