I find myself walking slowly past my front windows today. I press my nose against them and stare at the house across the street. There's no movement outside and I go back to folding laundry. I tuck the T-shirts into square bundles and stack them on the rug in front of me. My mind wanders with the monotonous movements and I think, once again, of my neighbor. I fight the urge to peek one more time.
I witnessed my strong, independent friend shoulder the demands of sudden single-parenthood in the midst of a pandemic. She launched her own company and beat me to the morning workout no matter how early I left the house. I remember the anxiety flickering behind her eyes when she announced another tour of duty overseas for her military husband. Oblivious, our kids circled the street on their bicycles, the training wheels barely hanging on as the tires rumbled over the curbs. We sat in plush lawn chairs with iced drinks in our hands watching the kids weave through each other.
These months must have been brutal.
She never let me see anything less than strength.
I thought about me, about my sheer need to "tag out" or "pass the baton" at night. By then, I'm tired of yelling, "No headshots!" towards the blur of Nerf guns hiding behind the couch. My patience levels sink when another child escapes the tub before the bath is done. Wet bodies streak through the house, squealing and jumping naked onto the couch.
No, by then, I'm done. I'm ready to grab that halfway-scrubbed ankle and drag it back to the tub.
Thankfully, my husband walks through the door, and barely has time to fold his glasses onto the counter. Two sets of arms tackle him from behind, pinning him to the ground. He rolls around on the ground with the boys and, for just a moment, I breathe deeply. I take a break and lean against the countertop.
Not everyone can tag out. Not everyone can pass their baton.
I know this. I know what a gift it is to have this man, fully present for me and my family, even after long days.
I find refuge in his arms. His calm balances my intensity. His hands cradle my head against him when I venture beyond my breaking point for the day. Just being near him feels like a dream, a miracle, that still amazes me.
An internship separated us for one long summer years ago. I talked to him every night on the phone, but it wasn't the same.
I can't imagine a separation that lasts almost year. Or longer.
Last night, the soldier flew home. His kids didn't expect it.
Maybe daddy woke them up this morning. Maybe they recorded the surprise. Maybe they tackled him before he folded his glasses. They probably cried and held each other so tight it was hard to breathe. I'm sure he couldn't believe how tall the kids are now, or how many teeth they lost.
I start to fold the socks and I think of how much she missed him.
I know how I would feel.
I hear a car door close outside and saunter past the window again.
It's not them.
But I can't help but smile for their family.