During the witching hour of my home, my brain and my “calmly breathe and be grateful” strategies the other day, the noise became all too much. The kids, the chaos, the roofers pounding nails above us, the trucks in our driveway, the alarms in my head that pointed out messes and things I had to do, the voice of “pick up your shoes” and “put your lunch box away” that came out far more naggy than I intended, the phone that rang, the cries for more juice and go outside and mom, watch! watch this!. It was loud and chaotic, and in an attempt to quiet and calm, I piled everyone in the van and headed to the pool. Floats and pool toys blocked my mirror view on the short drive, and we turned around not once but twice to retrieve forgotten goggles and juice boxes. I clutched my poetry book–Soul Food–in my hand as I unloaded kids and dragged foam noodles across the parking lot to the pool where I’d soon sit on the step and watch happy splashers while Mary Oliver whispered me back into calm.
The water was warm and inviting, the pool patio almost vacant except for an older gentleman who looked up from his book only for a moment to confirm that we too wanted peace and that none of my kids looked like the cannonball type. Give Dash six more months.
Gracefully and barely disturbing the surface of the water, Lainey filled her lungs and slipped into the shallow end mermaid-style, a blur of blond hair and long legs disappearing underneath the water until she reemerged in the deep end moments later.
Down two steps went Nella–bravely venturing to the bottom stair, neck-deep, while she clung to the railing, and then back up to the top where she smiled proudly and turned around to do it again. Dash joined her, the two of them conversing through laughter and their shared accomplishment. Finally, quiet.
And then the pool gate opened and a trail of giggling children of all sizes–one, two, three, four, five of them–came skipping through, their mom trailing behind them hollering reminders not to jump. My kids all turned to look, paralyzed in amusement and intimidated by how many of them there were. The older gentleman in the lounge chair looked up from his book again. Cannonball type? Perhaps.
They didn’t cannonball into the water; they threw themselves into it–arms out, chests raised, squeals of laughter accompanying their splashes. There was nothing hesitant about any of it; rather enthusiastic, joyous, whole-hearted.
“We just got here,” their mom explained apologetically. “I flew alone with them, We came from the cold this morning, so we’re very happy to be here.”
“No worries, you’re fine,” I smiled. (“Speak for yourself,” thought the old man with the book.) “They all yours?”
“These three are,” she pointed to the older ones laughing in the deep end. “And these two–” she motioned toward two little blond girls on the steps of the shallow end. “These are my foster babies. They just returned to us two weeks ago.”
For the next forty-five minutes, I watched as this beautiful mother–certainly tired from her travels and worn out from the noise of five children and all that led her on this journey to this place–volleyed her attention between each child who called for her, needed her, wanted her to mom watch! watch this!. How patient and loving and all-embracing she was. Her smile never broke.
Between splashes and jumps, her older children swam to the little girls on the steps, picked them up, guided them through the shallow end, hugged them and praised them for their bravery. Love, security, belonging–it was palpable.
I never had a chance to open my poetry book. But there, in the loud and perfect chaos of eight kids in a pool, three different family stories and the shared experience of finding solace from the noisy parts of life under sunshine, with each other…I found my peace and quiet. I had my Soul Food.
More soul food from last night: