Burying Our Inner Critic and Censor
“The footprint of the house looks small for all the living we did here,” I remarked to John, staring down into an excavated basement cavern.
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“I was thinking the same thing,” he said, kicking a clod of dirt careening below. Mounds of soil flecked with green shingle bits slumped nearby. My mint patch grew hale and green, unchecked by the demolition.
Daniel stomped around the perimeter, stopping to smash occasional dirt chunks or peer cautiously into the hole. Just a few days ago, when first seeing the destroyed house, he gaped in surprise with all of us. Speeding by it after the intersection light flickered green, my daughter had snapped grainy cell phone photos, and we had all craned our heads to follow the pile of house as it passed through each window. Cars lined up behind us in the turn lane so we could only stare through the twilight as the pile slipped out of sight.
“I’m too sad to cry,” Daniel pronounced solemnly as we turned up Fraizier Street and away from the scene of our former home.
Having only left there three months ago, we still smiled nostalgically each time we drove past it. Quipping, “There’s our old house,” we’d let our eyes trace possessively the hills, four pine trees, drying sunflowers in the garden, and familiar yellow and green siding and trim.
Sunday afternoon, Daniel, John, and I were there in daylight to study the scene and say goodbye.
“Hey, I recognize that rock,” John grinned as I stooped to retrieve a blue boulder from where it used to prop up the ribbed gutter behind the garage.
“I’m getting it. It’s ours,” I declared.
After greeting our neighbors briefly, my boys headed to the car. Darting from the vehicle suddenly, I raced to my patch of mint, still growing strong. “I need to harvest some before the snow comes tomorrow.”
John shook his head and ducked his tall frame into the car.
Sweet crisp spearmint crushed in my hands as I tore it off bushes I had planted two years ago. Tall gangly stalks bounced and bobbed in the movement and the autumn wind. Yellow dust scattered.
Climbing into the car, laughing sheepishly yet oddly defiant, I dumped the mint leaves onto notebook paper in the front seat and fastened my seat belt. John put the car into reverse as he backed out of the driveway. “That’s right. I had forgotten how hard this driveway was,” he said, looking both ways at fast-incoming traffic. We paused.
“Look at all the gopher mounds,” he laughed, shaking his head, remembering my battles.
I quietly said goodbye as we drove west on Ball Road: goodbye to the invisible yellow house, to the two yellow maples out front, the four pine trees standing guard in the west, and the dried sunflowers hanging drooped heads low in the back.
“It doesn’t feel like our house anymore,” six year old Daniel said. “It feels like death.”
And we pulled onto Lexington Avenue and drove south. Leaning in to smell my mint, I blew unconsciously at the dust coating the leaves. Scattering instantly across the car, making John cough, dust from our house floated in the air.
My six year old’s words held power and strength this week. In freedom, he sieved through his emotions, naming them as they bubbled up, and releasing them aloud. Knowing that goodbyes to people, places, and seasons is vital –and dangerous when squashed– I am listening as he speaks and affirming his feelings. Nodding my head, I let him know that it is okay to hold both grief and joy, both nostalgia and excitement, gratitude and goodbyes. Resisting the urge to censor, educate, or reframe his feelings or expressions, I free him to put words to his emotions.
Dancing in the sunlight, yellow dust particles swirled near the car vents, with the sweet smell of mint mixing in.