Today I took my kids for a walk in the sun (!). We walked around the lake in town, stopping to pick up sticks and look at the ducks (well, Alice and I did...Sam, Gabby, Gabby's BFF Emily, and the dog ran ahead and did God knows what...). When we made it back to the starting point, the older kids asked if we could go to the "little lake" and look for animals. I said ok.
The "little lake" is actually a wetlands here in town. It is a piece of land that I know a lot about, as when I was in high school, I was part of a group that worked to build a learning center on it and keep it from becoming the home of the new softball field. The team has since gotten a lot of press--they have traveled all over the world and won countless awards. The learning center has been built (it was but a model and a dream when I was in high school), as well as a floating dock and a nice walkway. Pretty amazing for a small group of students from a tiny school in central Appalachia.
When the kids and I arrived, the older ones (and dog) took off on their own. Alice and I started padding around together, much as we had done at our other stop. She was walking in front of me and I was watching her funny Frankenstein-esque gait. But then, we got to the back side and all of a sudden I was just overcome. I found myself unable to talk or speak or really do anything at all but walk quietly and watch the striped legs of the toddler in front of me. It was just an overwhelming sense of place, of life, of movement of time.
I stood there and thought about the things that I had cared about in high school--the prom, getting into a good college, calculus. Things that I am almost embarassed to admit how much I cared about way back when. They have all fallen away like so many dead leaves. But this remains, this stays. I continued to thing about things I care about now--what size dress pants I wear, the brand of eyeliner I use, if Alice eats organic macaroni and cheese or not. Someday I will not care about these things and will perhaps laugh at my materialism, my needless fretting over the minutiae of life. But this will be here, a piece of me that blooms and dies and is reborn every year, a piece of gravel under a toddler's sneaker.
I am not a sentimental person. I do not scrapbook, do not have organized boxes in my garage of my children's clothing. I do not photograph every stage of their lives--in fact, my extended family often gets pissed at my lack of initiative when it comes to portraiture. I prefer to live in the present, to watch them grown and thrive in real time without concerning myself about how I will remember it in the future. But today, being there, feeling the frail warmth of the winter sun and hearing the happy voices of my children, I felt this amazing torrent of life just hit me in the face. This was the past and the future and the glorious, happy present right here. And it was an amazing, almost surreal experience.
Alice and I walked the perimeter of the wetlands three times before the older kids got exasperated with us and began calling and asking for us to please!hurry!up!. However, I remain transfixed by the moment there. And, perhaps even more miraculously, when I got back in the car, the muscle in my neck that is constantly tensed and has been since around my second year in college, through massages and spa treatments and countless evenings spent in my bathtub with a magazine and a glass of wine, was soft and pliable. It felt as if the years had fallen back, a black hole had opened up and I had emerged much the same as I had been when I was that kid who planted wetlands plants in a pair of silver birkenstocks and a tie dyed skirt, singing songs by the Dave Matthews Band.
It is not altogether a bad feeling.