The telescope was heavy. I cursed under my breath while I loaded all 77 pounds of it into the back of my van. The boys were bickering inside. The baby started bawling on the monitor. Caleb was working late, again. I was gearing up to head to the lake by myself with the kids. Sweat beads dripped off the back of my legs. Bad-tempered is the nice way to put how I felt.
There. I thought as I lurched the telescope into place. I did it. It’s in. Now I just have to figure out how to use the freaking thing and load the kids up and do this all on my own and it isn’t fair. He gets to go out and work and I have to do everything on my own with three kids. It’s like trying to swim with lead weights on my ankles. They weigh me down. It’d just be easier if I worked too and if we put the kids in a cheap, sketchy daycare. If I stopped overparenting. I’d be a real woman, feminist, whatever, get a real job. Not have a stupid 30 before 30 list that makes me do these stupid extra things. Real women don’t do this, they just accept aging with grace or some junk. Dignity.
Self-pity is a siren song full of little lies and pointless envies.
I drown those thoughts or I try to take them captive as my good Christian friends say. Even captive, they’re still there, rattling their chains. I looked at the telescope appraisingly, blithely ignoring my inner turmoil. I refuse it, on my good days. No. I practice saying a stern “no” to myself.
Something about the telescope didn’t look right, like it was missing. So I called Caleb, which is what I do when something doesn’t look right.
“ONSITE, this is Caleb.” He was a little breathless.
“Honey, I’m loading up the telescope, it looks like maybe there’s a piece missing?”
“Yeah, there was that whole black bag full of stuff your parents brought. I think it’s in the garage somewhere? On a cabinet, maybe?” He started to talk to someone who knocked on his office door “No, that’s not the right sample,” another phone rang in the background, another person started talking to him. “Babe, I gotta go. I’m slammed this afternoon. Love you!”
“Love you too.” I hung up and looked at the phone in my hand.
I took a deep breath, we’re both slammed, that’s the end of it. The baby had resettled, the boys quieted in the family room, lulled into a Netflix coma. I pocketed my phone, dragged out the stool, and stood on tiptoe, blindly groping for a bag full of parts on the tippiest toppiest shelf of the cabinet. It was right there at my fingertips. I dragged it down and dusted it off. In the cloth grocery bag were a couple of boxes full of lenses and a smaller telescope. It had sat for over two years after my parents drove from Pennsylvania to Georgia for a visit over Christmas and hauled the telescope with them on their trip down the Eastern seaboard. Connor was three and had been into a space phase and asking for a telescope. He and I had tried to count the stars using tally marks before bed while his Daddy worked late into the night on project after project those couple of years ago. We’d learned the planet names, some constellations and their confusing myths.
“We never use this thing,” my Dad said. “I think it was Scott’s? Or Emily’s? You can have it, if you’ll use it.”
There are few things better than a hand-me-down telescope.
So here I was, getting ready to use it. What is all this stuff even? I shrugged, I'd figure it out, like I always do. I shoved the bag beside the telescope tube and loaded the rest of our necessities—stuffies, night-lights, diapers, kids—into the van and took off.
There’s always this moment when I’m at the top of my driveway as I crane my head left and right before turning out that I feel proud. Proud that I’ve loaded up the kids all by myself. Proud that we’re setting off on some kind of adventure. Proud that I’ve conquered myself yet again. More than proud. I feel ready. It’s a fleeting sort of feeling, but it’s one of the best. Sometimes I even sing or blast whatever our anthem of the moment is. That day it was "Uptown Funk." On repeat. The whole hour and fifteen minute, seventy mile car-ride to the lake. It got a little old.
Once we were at the lake, Elof bounded out to greet us. He, Shirley, and Mary were there already, finishing some school, enjoying the quiet. It was just going to be them and us for a night.
“Hello boys! Hi Jojo!” Elof greeted the kids. The boys smiled, the girl cooed. He’s our favorite. “Do you need any help, Kate?”
“Hi Elof. Yeah, could you get the telescope? Watch out, it’s heavy."
“You brought the telescope?” His enthusiasm was contagious. “Do you think we can use it tonight?”
“We have to do some research on how to work it, but I don’t see why not,” I said.
“It’s heavy!” he said.
“I know, right?”
We settled into the house, the sun set, the mosquitos buzzed, I put the children to bed and finally launched myself into a couch, pulled my phone out of my pocket and prepared to zone out. Zoning out feels good, like I’ve earned it. Maybe not good so much as numb, as not active, as thought-free, feeling-free, pain-free. The minutes and hours I waste scrolling and tapping on that little screen is my small reward for, I don’t know, keeping the kids alive, teaching them to read and use the toilet, swallowing my exasperations, being a responsible adult. It’s an anesthetic and maybe even a soul-killer. But it does make my mind go quiet.
“Kate! Come out here! The moon is rising! The water’s like…glittering!” Mary Grace squealed, beckoning us all out to the deck.
So we stood there, all of us, leaning on the railing, watching the moon rise.
It was a story-book moment. The Blue Moon was large and full.
It crested over the treeline of the opposite shore slowly and smoothly, like it was set in motion by an unseen set of gears clicking in perfect unison. We stood there transfixed as moonlight danced on the water. The moon went up up up and the white light skipped on the dark, laughing water. Once the moon rose high enough, the water was no longer so utterly transformed and the spell was broken. We all started to breathe again.
I stood there for a moment, inhaling and exhaling, acutely aware that the earth was moving, spinning at hundreds of miles per hour under my feet and I carried on, never appreciating the terrible, unlikely majesty of celestial motion. That the earth, the moon, the sun, all hurtling through space, miraculously suspended. Against all odds, we exist. I felt special and small all at once. I walked through the glass door, queued behind Mary. The window looks dirty. I should clean it.
My awe passed away too quickly.
“Want to go use the telescope?” Elof asked.
I sighed. I did not. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to turn off. But I refused myself again.
“Yeah, sure, why not?”
We walked down the stairs to the garage, lugged the telescope out, and pointed it at the moon. We giggled when we blinded ourselves.
"The moon is so bright! Look! It has mountains."
It was another small wonder.
I’m learning that it’s best to say yes to the moment and no to my own maudlin inner monologue.
All around me, as a backdrop to the mundane work and the small urgencies and fleeting difficulties of everyday life, there are roses to sniff, stars at which to gaze, children growing before my very eyes.
Wonders abound in the made world. If only I find the discipline to hush and focus myself so I have eyes to see and ears to hear.
23 is crossed off the list.