It's unseasonably cold down here in Georgia. I could hear the heater kicking on all night long and this morning the lawn was pale with frost. The sunlight moves around the house differently this time of year. It creeps into corners and slides down the wall, deep and golden and then gone.
The oval window at the foot of the stairs lets in a perfect circle of light early in the morning. For the light loving person that I am, this is a gift and I thank Him each time I see it, for the way it lifts my heart even when my body is exhausted and my eyes bleary.
It's Thanksgiving and there are cars parked along the side of the road and piled up in driveways, as families up and down the street congregate in heated houses, steaming with spices and cooking, overflowing with the television sounds and conversation and children.
Or they are quiet and shuttered, getting through the day one hour at a time, feeling out of place, feeling slightly foolish, the way Keith and I did, when we first arrived in Georgia. We were fresh from the wounding of infertility and that year spent hidden down the winding roads and woods of Kentucky.
I remembered that year recently, when Keith and I were outside earlier this month. He was grilling chicken and I was holding the baby and we were both completely exhausted, drawn way out past what we would have thought we could handle.
It was late afternoon and the light was caught on the tips of the pines and slanting down onto the dry yard. There was the scent of barbecue and smoke, and as I rocked in that mindless, almost effortless dance that one learns with a baby, I remembered that spring in Kentucky.
That back porch was green smeared from moisture- that winter, there has been months of cloud cover. The woods were black and bare, the leaves moldering on the forest floor. The sunlight sparkled on rivulets of water that ran down our quiet street. The sun was lowering and I caught the light in my eyes as it shot through the tangled branches.
We were exhausted then too, from the move and the winter and adjusting to married life. Our entire first year was spent in the emotional roller coaster of his deployment to Iraq; when he returned and before he left, we were drunk on that awful, exhilarating rush of feeling that is impossible to sustain.
After he came home safe, we had to figure out who we were all over again, in a new state, in a new house and a new job, and with the growing knowledge, month after month, something must be wrong very wrong, that we were not getting pregnant.
I was so angry at God. I didn't know Him very well and I was carrying so much heavy religious baggage. Sometimes I still bump up against the broken shards of it inside me; sometimes it feels like I'm living inside the ruins of an abandoned factory, made to make me into the person I thought I had to be- to press me and scald me and force me into perfection, no matter what part of me withered away in the shadows of those awful, unyielding beliefs.
That day in Kentucky, the spring so early it was nothing more than the hint of something fresh and chill in the air, I leaned against Keith as he stood on the back porch. He was warm, solid and smelled of smoke and barbecue sauce and this familiar scent lit up memories of our life before he deployed and that giddy autumn before we moved.
I knew we would be okay. It didn't matter where we found ourselves or how many deep places in life we had to make our way through- we would find our way back to ourselves again. And that has been true- we went through infertility and two moves and two years of working on the adoption before we held our daughter in our arms.
We thought we were prepared, but there was no way that we could have grasped how parenthood breaks apart you apart and then puts you back together, piece by piece, in ways that would have seemed impossible, before.
It's raw and exhausting; the work is slow, slow, slow and unending, hour by hour, day by day, with sudden, shining breakthroughs, like the first time she laughs and this delights even her and the first time she realizes that her hands can make something move. It's the hardest work I've ever done and most meaningful and even knowing everything I know so far- and I have so much more to learn, about being a parent- I would accept it all over again.
This year, I have been thankful for the most life changing things. There was the phone call to tell us that two complete strangers had insisted that Keith and I be the parents of their unborn girl, despite the fact that they should never have seen our profile, and the moment that I saw my daughter for the first time, attached to tubes and machines and nearly swallowed up by the tiniest diaper the hospital had on hand, and putting this tiny person into the car seat and actually driving away with her, because she was healthy, putting on weight, breathing on her own, and ours- our own daughter, a member of our newly expanded family.
This fall, I have been thankful for the most elementary things- for the ability to crouch down before the refrigerator and then to rise up effortlessly, turn easily on my hips and walk to the counter, for Meri falling asleep on only the second time I put her down, and for the light at the foot of the stairs.