The house is quiet now. All the children have left, and I am starting the therapeutic work of picking up from the chaos. I move slowly, bone-tired yet unable to relax.
I’m putting down on the coffee table the breakable items that were moved to higher, safer ground. I’m fluffing the sofa pillows that were stacked to form a fort. I’m straightening the throw rug that was skewed from sliding feet. I’m wiping off sticky piano keys and putting the top down.
Now I go to the bedroom where the grandchildren slept. I’m changing the sheets that were pulled up in a wrinkly attempt to make the bed. I’m straightening a lampshade that was knocked cockeyed, realigning a picture that is atilt, stacking nighttime reading books into a neat pile. I’m listening to the silence that still echoes with children’s laughter.
Something underneath the bed catches my eye. It is one forgotten sock. I fish it out and hold it in my hand. It must be Lisa’s. It is crumpled into a ball, the result of quick removal. It is white and has cartoon bears on it. It is so small. I undo the knots and crimps and straighten it out.
Originally Published on GRAND Magazine in January-February 2007 Issue
The floodgate of emotions that I kept shut by busywork is unlocked, and all the feelings of emptiness surge in. My robot-like actions are pierced with a sharp dart of longing love. I am overwhelmed with memories of little arms reaching up to me for a hug; wet kisses; soft bodies that I rocked; little heads on my shoulders; the uninhibited laughter that only children seem capable of; the unquestioning, unconditional love children so quickly give; the look on their sweet faces in sleep.
I won’t see them again for several months. Will Lisa be too big to be rocked? Will Laura no longer beg for Grandma Judy to tuck her in?
Time is a strange element we live in. When my own children were little, some days were so long I thought they would never end—but where have the years gone? Childhood passes so quickly.
Once I asked my father what was the happiest time of his life. He said, “When you children were little.” Yet these were hard times for him: Depression years, working two jobs, many personal struggles. Now I understand what he meant.
Lisa never likes to wear socks. She pulls them off at every opportunity—flinging them in wild abandonment—freeing her toes to explore the tickle of grass, the slide of waxed floors, the spongy feel of cushions, and the delight of squishy mud.
What will I do with this sock? I could send it back, but…a package with one sock? Who knows where the partner is? When they return for a visit again, it will be too small. Lisa will have other socks to discard.
What will I do with this sock?
I will keep it—and remember— and wait for someone to ask me: When exactly was the happiest time of your life?