Motherhood can sometimes be so alone, and not even in a sad way, just matter of fact alone, with a hundred thoughts circling, but rarely time to address any one properly. I imagine it must feel this way when you are a child too, and thus is parenting, a few steps across that shaky bridge between a bigger person and a smaller person, and sometimes a full, and emboldened sprint to the other side where we meet each other like perfect and old friends. A fully imperfect attempt to say, we are one because you are my child and I am your parent. This afternoon of rain, after many afternoons of rain and Carl out of town with field work, even the worms searching for a little refuge on the sidewalks seemed welcome companions.
Remy, Thea and I moved like wet flowers in our bright rain gear. Up the unfamiliar Swedish road past the white church on the hill. We moved through the cemetery, names I could not pronounce and hardly could fathom the idea that they lived in this foreign place their whole lives. I knew somewhere at the end of the wide expanse of grass and rounded stones was a path to a forest, I just didn't know quite where. And so we weaved, making parent and child talk. I was loving my babies and their infinite earnestness so much that day. In Swedish cemeteries, they have little stations with watering cans, clippers, and wheelbarrows and because time was far from the issue, we stopped at one. The rain had let up some. Remy filled the green watering can with the slender spout by pressing his foot to the silver pedal on the ground. He moved deliberately to the flowers at the heads of gravestones and watered them, and I thought, 'please let my boy always find his work in this world.' Because I'd spent many of the last months feeling useless to the society and helpless in this new place, I thought the least I could do was offer up some meager, and I do mean meager, service. I took the clippers and starting snipping the long grass that had grown up around several of the headstones. It seemed obvious that visitors had long since stopped coming to these particular sites because behind the forest of unruly grass strands was a name, still important somewhere I presume. I don't remember any of the names I set free with my borrowed clippers, but I let myself believe it was a sort of service to them. A hardly brave, but necessary service in one of my more humble hours. Thea tottered, gathering wet grass and clover to her pants.
We moved on through the cemetery and when we got near the outskirt, the part where the gates open to a few parking spots and a gravel road, we saw a grey old man. From a far he looked tiny and prim, and when we got closer, he was still small and prim, but not so grey. He was standing at the crossing of a path and looked as if he were torn between waiting up for this unlikely trio coming through the glum day toward him, and another direction, which we later found out to be the headstone of his wife. He opted for us, because turns out that being a mother isn't the only time you find yourself quite alone. Like most Swedes, he was terribly polite and spoke perfect english. Remy held up the snail in his palm and the man said, 'that is snegel in Swedish' (now numbered among the dozen Swedish words I can recall.) A pretty useless word, really, but the fact that someone took the time to teach it to us, to say it over several times until we got it and Remy held the snail up to his eyes and said, 'Snegel', means I will cherish that word as a passed on treasure probably until I am old and forget all my words. The man, of course, was surprised to find Americans out on his island, much less in a cemetery, in the rain, but he was kind and almost a century old and did not question our running into him here. We made small talk, which felt far more significant to all of us than any of the words actually spoken. He did say my children were beautiful though, which I remembered and teared up right on the spot for because no stranger says that about your children in Sweden, and all we knew were strangers. We kept walking, turning back to wave a few times until we saw him stop at a spot and even then, he looked up to wave one last time.
In the forest we hiked up, the path slightly slick with mud, but mostly shaded by dense fir trees over us. The rain had turned to a pasty-skied leak, but the light stayed the color of rainy days. I loved to see my children climb over rocks and stop to pick up sticks. It makes me more proud than the act really warrants, but along with the aloneness of parenting, there is no one to limit your pleasure and glee at the mere typical acts of a human being. These moments are yours, because who else is going to delight in their child-ness? Who else is going to record each movement on a watching and vulnerable heart, but a parent?
On we hiked and Remy kept saying to me, 'mom, I know this place, we are going to the place where there is food.' I was confused because this forest looked rather like most forests that Remy, Thea and I had spent copious amounts of time in. Also, I couldn't imagine how this far away path at the edge of the cemetery would lead to food, but he insisted he knew it.
This is the part where we came to the pasture with the horses. The part where the sun finally, and in a sincerely surprising way, came out from the clouds. Didn't just come out, but pushed them all away until we were standing at the one-wired fence and the horses were moving slowly and curiously toward us, and the sun was beaming on all our eager faces, as if the rain had not been coming down in sheets at lunchtime.
The horses did not ever come near enough for us to pet their noses, too wild, too Swedish. But we took our raincoats off and hiked over a hill and into a ravine. The wild blueberries springing up from their low bushes like confetti. The sunlight coming through the trees like trailing streamers. The spiderwebs, still wet, strung miraculously between tree trunks. The birds making their noises again, filling the forest with sound. To think, just hours before, I had been desolate, desperate, even hopeless inside the quiet flat with my two children.
Remy insisted again that this all felt familiar, and then i remembered that Carl had taken them on a hike months before. He had mentioned it was near the cemetery and that deep into the path, they'd found a little cafe run by a community of farming people. Remy was right in remembering. And then I stopped and realized that to me, this all felt familiar as well. Though in a very different way. This sense of being okay, of being protected and watched over, of helping me to know how to take care of my children, it felt like a mother's love. An ancient love that flowered deep inside the furthest recesses of my mind and heart and moved through all of me to that very spot where I stood, and watched my son and my daughter, and I felt that rare gift of being completely understood. Being in this forest felt like remembering, felt like the song of welcoming. Felt like a mother I've always known.