As my husband makes the final turn of our 20-minute drive home from the airport, our car’s headlights cast a sweep of yellow light across the darkened neighborhood. Until at last, the heavens open up, the choirs of angels sing, and our 1980s two-story at the end of the cul-de-sac is illuminated like a gold gilded vessel.
“Ok, everybody grab your stuff!” husband bellows back to Tween, Teen#1, and Teen#2—now tanned, peeling, and smooshed together in the middle row. Sounds of buckles unbuckling, luggage wheels racing on concrete, and siblings chattering about who gets the main bathroom first fill the late night air.
This morning we were 1600 miles away, basking in our last few hours of a week in tropical paradise including a couple of days in Disney’s magical land of make believe. Tonight, we’re back in Minnesota where people build houses on ice and eat tater-tot hot dish on a stick, and suddenly—there’s no place we’d rather be.
Still collecting my smaller bags and random items left behind, I look up from the passenger seat to watch my three musketeers and good-natured hubby disappear into the house. I steal the moment to myself, rest my head back, and watch the moon reflect on the hood of the car—my own capsule of calm before reentry into real life.
Real life. The place where burnt crud is stuck to the bottom of my oven, the sliding screen door doesn’t fully shut, and where five suitcases worth of sandy, foul-smelling clothes will soon lay in a mound on the laundry room floor like the wild mess of a football pileup.
Real life. The place where family meal times more often than not are hasty hodgepodges served on paper plates squeezed between school, work, and sports. And where I drink coffee standing up at the kitchen counter while listening to morning news anchors report on the latest injustice and political unrest.
Real life. The place where right now, somewhere, there’s a mother on a college tour with her first daughter and another mother moving through the center hole of an X-ray tube.
Real life. The place where right now, somewhere, there’s an elderly man taking a walk around a neighborhood with his wife wearing a sun visor and white cotton pants and another sitting alone at his dim-lit kitchen table with soup stains on his shirt.
Real life. The place where right now, somewhere, there’s a child running through a sprinkler on lush green grass and another running out of a flimsy tent, dodging piles of garbage and stagnant water.
Real life. The place where the people live that I know and love, some humbly bound by hardships at home, not as free as me to roam a coast or ride a splash mountain in childish glee. With fingertips in the waves and eyes to the sky, I try to will a seagull or a warm breeze to come along and carry a piece of it their way.
Real life. The place where my husband and I stumble and revel our way through parenthood and marriage, sometimes looking around for an adultier adult in the room to show us how to proceed.
Real life. The place where I’m pushed and pulled in multiple directions each day, working and meal planning, shopping and chauffeuring, and helping to care for two generations at once. Where I bare witness to the grit and reverence of the human spirit and the inevitability of one flame flickering another burning bright.
Real life. The place where—tick, tock—life is counting down on my internal clock. And still, in regard to making sense of it all, I feel like the new kid on the block. Where I search for voice and purpose and wonder if I’m even making a dent and which of it really matters.
Real life. That place—albeit cracked and battered—illuminates like a gold gilded vessel in a sweep of yellow light. Even after a week in tropical paradise and a magical land of make believe.
I’m Julie Jo Severson, mom to two teens and a tween, freelance writer, editor, and co-author of HERE IN THE MIDDLE: Stories of Love, Loss, and Connection from the Ones Sandwiched in Between.
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