On Wednesday, we had one of those fall days that was just so perfect in every way it demanded that you drop everything on the to-do list and head outside. The toddler and I had a few errands to run after dropping the kids at school, and then we headed straight for the Arboretum.
It was warm and sunny. There was a slight breeze that caused the leaves to swirl down from the trees. And so many leaves were piled on the ground that you could literally smell Autumn.
Just as we drove up to the entrance of the Arboretum, I looked in my rear-view mirror to see my small companion drifting to sleep. She is in this in-between stage of needing a nap, but never wanting to take one. So, typically, I cherish any small nap she decides to take no matter where or when.
But this time, I was a little sad. I was looking forward to our time together without having to care about housework or jobwork or e-mail. I glanced at her sleeping in the back seat and it made my heart hurt.
Honestly, I was lonely.
I had a sudden wave of longing for the other three who were all sitting in a classroom across town. This hasn’t happened many times in the last two months since they started schoolschool. We just finished the first quarter at their new school, and I have to say I have been completely at peace with the change.
It’s been a great experience for the three of them. I feel much more in control of my life. And I love the one-on-one time I get with my youngest. The two of us really enjoy being together, and not having to worry about all of the school work during the day.
But the smell of the leaves and the warm air reminded me of some special days during our home school life when the weather was just too beautiful to think about math, grammar or history. We would pack up our books and the kids would finish as much work as possible while we drove to the Arboretum. Once there, we would eat lunch on a blanket. They would climb trees or play a game of hide and seek in the woods.
I longed to have them there with me. And I realized that I haven’t totally adjusted to this change of seasons in my life. I often struggle to figure out where I fit in. The majority of my friends either home school or they send all of their kids to school. They have all completely outgrown the phase of having a toddler at home.
I’m starting to get to know a few people with kids in the 2 to 3-year-old crowd, but I haven’t quite figured out how to navigate that world of play groups and play lands that used to be such a big part of my life. I feel odd and out of place because I’m 20 years older than many moms with kids the same age as my youngest.
I find the moments with my youngest to be so sweet, and I want to soak them up. At the same time, certain experiences remind me of having the same adventures with the other three. I get a feeling of deja vu as I realize that the older three are growing up. I now have a preteen. I’m used to having a whole litter of little ones. But now for six hours a day, I’m parenting an only child. It’s a new season.
My heart was also aching because the morning had started with conflict. I’m just starting to adjust to the changes of having a child who is almost a teen-ager. I was hurting from the regret of an argument that hadn’t been resolved before I dropped the kids at school.
All of these thoughts were swirling in my head as I turned into the Arboretum. I thought about turning around and going back home, but I decided to take advantage of the beauty by shooting some photos while the toddler slept. As I roamed around, staying close to the van, I contemplated whether I would still do stuff like this even if I didn’t have a little one to give me an excuse.
After about an hour, she woke up, and we had a wonderful little nature hike together.
As we were walking back to the car, I saw two older women standing near a tree. One of the women had pure white hair, and she was hunched over. The second woman was holding the older woman’s arm and helping her keep her balance. The older of the two looked so frail that I was worried she might trip and fall. I assumed they must be standing by that tree because it was right by the parking lot and it was as far as she could walk.
Then I heard the two of them call out to me. “Excuse me! Excuse me!”
I walked toward them, fearing they needed help.
“Could you take our picture?” the younger woman asked. As I looked in her face, I realized she was probably in her mid to late 60s. The second woman was an older version of the first and had to have been close to 90.
I had been walking along with my camera dangling from my neck, and I realized that is probably why they had called out to me. My brain was scrambling to think of a reply.
During the last week, I have spent quite a bit of time shooting photos of people. I seem to have picked up a little side job taking photos, and I actually had spent an hour that morning taking photos for a friend. My brain was still so much on that wavelength that I started trying to figure out how I would get the photos to them after I had taken them.
Then it occurred to me to ask: “Do YOU have a camera?”
“Yes! Yes!” the younger woman replied. She pulled a small camera out of her purse. She then explained that this was their favorite tree. She apologized that it had already lost all of its leaves. She tried to get there sooner, but she lives two hours away and couldn’t come for a visit until now.
Both of the women were absolutely beaming. I could tell they were happy to be together and so happy to be visiting their favorite spot. Their eyes were sparkly, and they had such warm smiles. I looked at their favorite tree with its low branches sprawling in every direction. Most of the trees I had already seen were still full of leaves, but not theirs. The ground was blanketed in fallen leaves.
I wanted to tell them that I thought their tree was still beautiful. Sometimes you don’t see beauty at first. Sometimes you have to get up close and look in the eyes to see how much beauty is really there. Their tree was obviously very strong and had so much character.
I grabbed the camera and did what I always do. I looked around for the sun. I wanted to take the photo with the sun behind them so it wouldn’t be in their eyes. They were both standing on the other side of a large branch and asked me to come around.
“Can we take one just like this with you standing behind the branch?” I asked. “I don’t want the sun to be in your eyes.” Clearly, this wasn’t the pose they had in mind.
They both looked at each other and laughed, then they shrugged their shoulders as if they had chosen the silliest photographer in the entire Arboretum. They put their arms around each other and posed looking over the branch.
I promised them I would take more photos on the other side. I took several more in their traditional pose, and wished I could take more. I wanted to ask them to lay down on the ground in those leaves and kick their legs up in the air so the photo would include all of that gorgeous fall color. But there was no way that was possible in their season of life.
I handed back the camera and watched for a minute as they excitedly scrolled through the photos on the camera screen. I felt like there was something else. Maybe another question I should ask. I wanted to take more photos. I took a minute to soak in the four of us standing under that big tree. The white-haired woman and her daughter. My daughter and I. The four of us spanning every season of life.
As I turned away from them and walked back to my van, I started to cry. I wasn’t even sure why.
Maybe from an unresolved conflict that morning.
Maybe from a precious moment shared with my daughter.
The longing for my other children.
A favorite tree and all that meant. I pictured the two of them visiting that tree year after year, calling out to strangers to snap their photo. I hoped that I would be so blessed some day.
I cried because the day was just that beautiful. A rare gift.
A cold front was coming in, and we wouldn’t have many more days like it this year. I wanted to enjoy it. The season is changing. I so love the warmth and the longer days. But I’m learning to love each of the seasons. I can’t bring back the past, but I can remember its beauty. And those two women were a special remind to enjoy each season I’m in.