We have returned from our camping trip. Newman has unhitched the pop-up camper and begun to unload the coolers and supplies from the car. I have changed into my running clothes to get in a run before I have to pick up Free from her father. We are tired, having hit traffic that added an hour to our drive. It is Sunday, and I haven’t slept much for two nights, and Newman woke early this morning to feed the troops before starting to pack up our campsite.
It was a good trip. We’ve reviewed it together, noted how much work it entailed to set up camp, shop, prepare and clean up three meals for eight people, and then pack up. We have talked about how little the six teenagers who came along did to help until they were nudged, reminded, cajoled, and then told explicitly what tasks they were responsible for so that Newman wasn’t solely responsible for everyone else on his birthday. We’ve discussed why it played out that way, Newman bemoaning how he has always done too much for his kids and thus failed them, me suggesting it is in the natural way of most teenagers (or anyone, really) to wait to be directed rather than to take initiative when two adults who have organized the trip already seem to have everything under control.
At any rate, we think everyone had fun and count it successful that, after direction, everyone packed up quickly this morning and that everyone brought good cheer toward each other and us to celebrate the occasion. On the way home, there were smiles and waves when we passed each other’s cars on the highway, and now we are settling back in to our routines at home, already beginning to think about the week ahead and the new tasks that will accompany it.
After my run, I shower quickly and go to say goodbye to Newman before heading out to get Free. He shows me a wasps’ nest on our deck, the largest I’ve seen in a while. “I didn’t even see it until I was right next to it,” he says, his voice tinged with wonder. I suck in air quickly, remembering in a flash when I got stung by a wasp recently and ran into the house, tears streaming down my face, to find my Epipen, my mother hurrying behind me as she shooed away the curious children wondering why their aunt Claire was so flustered. I didn’t have an allergic reaction, it turns out, so it must have been a bee, or a hornet, or some other such stinging insect that caused my skin to swell and burn so suddenly that other time. Ever since my anaphylactic reaction to medication several years ago, I can’t shake the panic that also swells in me every time there’s even a tiny possibility of it happening again. Even now, safe on the other side of a screen door looking at a nest of insects that have proven to be no more dangerous to me than to anyone else, I can’t help but shudder and turn away.
Later, when Free comes home, I will show her the broken bits of nest left on the ground where they have fallen after Newman’s attack. He has sprayed and struck the nest, and wasps still swarm around their home, looking both treacherous and tender as they hover over their dead brethren. I wonder why they are still here; perhaps they are searching for a way to rebuild, or perhaps a way to say goodbye. We warn Free, unnecessarily, to stay away; she has a healthy fear of wasps and wants to know every detail of Newman’s escape from them. As they talk, I study the wasps and their intense swarming frenzy. Later when they are all gone, I want to pick up the pieces of their broken nest and examine its layers of concentrated ingenuity. I imagine it will feel like cardboard, the tightly woven, brittle honeycomb that was nothing but a protective womb to them, but a hidden and sudden danger to us.
It isn’t until later when we finally step out onto the deck that we realize the baby birds are here. After Newman’s spring and summer long battle with the birds, it took less than a week of us being away for them to build a nest. It sits delicately and ironically on top of a large citronella candle Newman placed on top of our screen door, warding away neither bugs nor birds as it perches, instead now home to four babies who stick their heads out one or two at a time, squawking to their parents who hover in nearby trees as I coax Free, still afraid of the wasps, to lean her head outside to see them. “I’ve lost,” mourns Newman, and I feel sorry for him, knowing these birds will return again and again now that they’ve found success on our deck.
Nature battles us here on our deck for a space to live and grow. One battle we fight out of our need for safety, one out of inconvenience. We will sweep away the wasps’ nest and watch as the baby birds become bigger and learn to fly.
And now it is Wednesday, and I am bracing myself for other battles. We return to work next week, but before that, we must face another challenge. Newman left early this morning to drive his son to college. Before he left, he leaned his head down and kissed me gently goodbye, showing we are indeed ok after yesterday’s fluttering where, in our mutual anxiety about this journey, we navigated another wave of discontent with each other. All our usual issues emerged as we figured out how to comfortably get everyone in our blended family dynamic together to celebrate his son’s achievements at one last dinner. In the end, we managed it, and now Newman is somewhere out there on the highway, driving one packed car while his son and his son’s mother travel in another somewhere close by.
I know some of what Newman is feeling and can’t imagine the rest. I think of the miles he is traveling, the path he weaves with him and her as they drive their son to his new home. Yesterday, in the midst of our fight, which was less of a fight and more of a hushed, dark negotiation, Newman told me he did not want a life with boundaries. He meant he did not want me to put any limits on his freedom, that he still does not know, at times, if he can do what he must do to be in this life with me, a life that sometimes feels to him like a battle.
I think of the wasps, weaving their own flight patterns around and around an old nest only to finally break off the old pattern somewhere, forced to find a new direction. I think of the robins, winding their way back and forth endlessly from trees to ground to nest, trying to keep up with the demand of their babies’ growing bellies.
As I write this, Free wakes and calls me to her from her bedroom, where I have promised to sleep with her tonight while Newman is away. As I cross over to her room, I look left and see the light coming through the trees and through our screen door. Newman has swept away the wasps’ nest, I see, before I have had a chance to examine it closely. There is no longer any lingering trace of danger. I enter my daughter’s room and open her window shade, letting the light in. I have my computer with me, and when I finish my post, I will snuggle in, enjoying one more lazy summer morning with my child who is still small, still tight and close in the nest.
I think of Newman and know that every mile he drives away from me today, he will drive again in two days when he returns home. There is no easy closure, no grand ceremony, no perfect sweeping away of things. There will be more wasps, more woven criss-crossing patterns of travel, some useless and anxiety ridden, some comforting in their routine. For now, it’s enough that we are here, apart and together, still trying, still loving, still flying.