The Balm of Sunshine

The week that Dave went to Canada to shoot bears was so exhausting an experience that I am only now endeavoring to relay it. Really, I'm far too tired even now, and I must incite my old caveat that this is not a place where I showcase my writing skills. It's a place where I come late at night (generally), to drop a pin on my life and make record of what often feels like an endless succession of wiping things, feeding people, and also wiping people.

I can't explain what exactly is so exhausting and sanity-corroding about staying home full time with small children to someone who has never done it. The very act of it is joyful, precious, and far more sweet than even Hallmark can express. But the endlessness of it is a challenge beyond words, one that is broken up when Dave comes home in the evening and on weekends. But when he's gone...sometimes I think the clock slips backward. I can manage quite well on my own for about three days, but I've discovered that is my limit. After that, the evenings drag on without hope of reprieve, and bedtime seems to never come. It's not just that he shoulders some of the burden of childcare, as that is offset by the fact that I have to cook, do extra laundry, and keep the house respectably clean. It's the emotional offloading that is essential.

He left on a Sunday and would come back on the next. By Wednesday, I was waving the white flag. I texted him that afternoon that my sanity was dangling by a thread, the boys would surely be the end of me. Our communications were limited to texts, as his cell service was very patchy and weak. Seemingly in response to my text, and yet with no acknowledgment of it, he sent back a picture of a peaceful forest glen, which he would be overlooking from his tree stand for the next eight hours. On his backside. I couldn't tell if he hadn't heard my cry of desperation, or if he was mocking me. That was a very angry day.

The next day I was pulled away from my resentful thoughts by some very practical needs. On the way home from playgroup at the park, Asher projectile vomited, repeatedly, in the car. If my joy was not complete in this, it was made whole in discovering as I drew his bath that the water heater was not working properly. I can count myself lucky that Asher did not throw up any more, and admit that I expected barf to make an appearance with Dave gone so long. With some help from a friend, I got the pilot light relit, but it went out. Again, and again. It would work long enough to heat the water some, and then go out completely.

Friday I called half a dozen plumbers. One came out for a consult, and he lead the chorus telling me "just get a new water heater." On my last call for second (etc.) opinions, I talked with a plumber who seemed to truly contemplate my situation. "Doesn't sound like anything is broken if it's running that long. It might just be that it's dusty and overheating."

And so, armed with a couple screwdrivers, a vacuum, and a can of compressed air, I pulled apart the panel door to the burner assembly. As with the dishwasher a few weeks previous, my optimism quickly turned to I'm probably going to break something, but it's too late to turn back now. There was some bending of metal involved, some removal of insulation, and an omnipresent fear that I would cause a gas leak and blow up the house. But in the end I got it all back together roughly as before, with less dust. And it wouldn't light. For five minutes I tried again and again, and when if finally did light, the scene was pretty similar to Tom Hanks's first fire in Castaway

Thus buoyed by my success (and grateful for a thoughtful plumber,) I felt equal to another feat the next day. Dirty as was the house and frazzled as were my nerves, I knew we had to get out. I packed a cranky Finn into my hiking backpack, and resolved on a long hike. I parked the car at a nearby park, and we ventured down a trail and up a hill toward Standley Lake. Really, it's a reservoir (no respectable reservoir will admit such), but it's very pretty, set against the backdrop of the Rockies.

We walked a good distance around it, and on the way back stopped to get our feet wet at the boat ramp (there aren't many beaches). Or if you're Asher, much more than your feet. Finn, on being set down at the water's edge, tried to stand on one foot like a flamingo. When left to his own devices, he crept out of reach of the waves. Ever the adventurous one, Asher splashed and screamed theatrically every time the water came for him. He made friends with a man and his dog, channeling his outgoing father.

The day was nearer perfection than I could have hoped. The weather was sublime, Finn slept much of the way and only pulled my hair a little near the end, and Asher was cheerful in walking the whole four miles. That boy is in his element in the outdoors. Often I think, as he tears around the house making bizarre noises, that I'm trying to keep an orangutan for a pet. But outside he knows exactly what to do, thrills with exertion, and becomes quite conversational. Everything about him is shown to its best advantage. If he had been a hunter gatherer child, he would have been the best of them.

 Summiting this hill was the only time he really complained, and only at the top when he was slipping.

Summiting this hill was the only time he really complained, and only at the top when he was slipping.

 I unsuccessfully attempted to toss him over a mud puddle and save his shoes from getting muddy. He fell flat on his back.

I unsuccessfully attempted to toss him over a mud puddle and save his shoes from getting muddy. He fell flat on his back.

 With his new friend, coaxing Maggie the fourteen-year-old dog out of the water.

With his new friend, coaxing Maggie the fourteen-year-old dog out of the water.

 Finn, still making up his mind about this aquatic business.

Finn, still making up his mind about this aquatic business.

 Finn preferred to be dry, thank you.

Finn preferred to be dry, thank you.

 This look captures all his joy in being outside, and the beauty of the scene.

This look captures all his joy in being outside, and the beauty of the scene.

That hike taught me—also in words I can't quite form—just how relaxing and rejuvenating it is to be outdoors and getting exercise. My children could not have been better, and I resolved then to take many hikes with them over the course of what will surely be a very fun summer.