“4 Life!!!”

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We’re home from a quick week-end trip to Billings.  We had not seen our family there since Christmas, which is way too long an absence.  While Joy, Anna and I were together at the Women’s March on Washington, the rest of us have not been in one another’s company, and we’ve been aching to be with them, to see how they’ve changed, and to hold them close.  Sure enough, Fletcher has grown three inches and is now taller than I am.  Anna has glasses and Duncan has grown lanky and strong.

Duncan and Anna have created a new hide-out for the two of them, and best friend, Sydney, in the dormer closet of Duncan’s bedroom.  It used to be his actual bedroom, before Fletcher moved to the guest room in the basement,  and was decorated in all things under the sea.  Throw pillows in the shape of fish crowded his little twin bed, and he had painted colorful murals of coral and deep water fish on the walls.  Now, the walls and ceiling are painted everywhere with emojis, and the space is filled with bright yellow emoji pillows and bean bag chairs.   There’s a little “altar” with a stuffed Patrick pillow (of SpongeBob fame) which is draped in an orange sequined robe, and three battery operated candles are placed in front.  And, there’s this sign, hanging on the wall, which made my heart ache.

Their old hide-out used to be in the loft of the detached garage, but just a day before the New Year was about to begin, the three of them were poisoned by carbon monoxide and rushed unconscious by ambulance to the hospital.  Fletcher took charge of the rescue, instintively knowing just what he had to do, and, miraculously, in the nick of time, the three little buddies survived a terrifying brush by the wing of a raven.  We adults swallow hard and blink back tears when we talk about it amongst ourselves, these three months later.  When the kids gave me a tour of their hide-out, I wondered if maybe they’ve come up with their own way to integrate that near tragedy into their young lives.   The smiling emoji, which peeked out from the edge of their sign, spoke of deep gratitude and hope to me.  Life goes on.

It’s Anna’s last year at McKinley Elementary.  She’ll join Duncan at the middle school in the Fall, and Fletcher will start his junior year in high school.  Joy and I commiserated about how fast the years have gone, and I was teary-eyed on my morning walk through the neighborhood, remembering all the walks we had made together to school, on the look-out for spring flowers.  I passed by the various small houses I used to fantasized buying, so I could cook dinners for the busy family and be available for all the babysitting.  Fletcher’s tennis competition on Saturday took place in Pioneer Park, at the end of their block, with the now-revitalized playground which we used to go to on those scorching summer days, when the metal slide was too hot to go down.  I was reminded of how it used to feel, twenty years ago, when we’d return to Colorado Springs for a visit, and I’d walk around our old neighborhood and be in tears on that memory lane, thinking of when my children were little girls, and time seemed like it would go on forever, unchanging.

It was snowing when we left Billings yesterday and off and on snow showers here today.   But, we’re off to California at the end of the week, and, hopefully, to some of its famed sunshine, for a visit with my other two daughters and their families.  It’s been way too long there, as well.  It’s always too long.  Yet, how profoundly grateful I am “4 Life!!!” with these loved ones, as time keeps races along, way too fast.

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