Arriving at Contentment On a Summer Evening

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My husband and I are trying to persuade our daughters, age 4 and 2, to go in. "It's getting dark, girls," I argue.

"But I like the dark," complains the four-year-old.

I understand. But it's 9:30, and we grownups are tired. "It's bedtime," I say, prying the two-year-old's fingers open. She has wrapped her arms and legs around one of the poles of the swing set. Whatever do they mean by "as easy as taking candy from a baby"?

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We play our trump card: "Daddy will give you your bath tonight." The girls shriek with joy and start to drag their father into the house. "I'll just pick up these toys," I call over my shoulder. "It's supposed to rain later tonight."

Like many of those in older, urban neighborhoods, our Victorian house and yard are set on a slope some 10 feet above the sidewalk. The huge rhododendron bushes that border the yard look down on continual waves of cars. Somehow, the rising and falling sound of traffic soothes tonight, legato harmony to the crickets' staccato. I pick up a white ball and a neon-orange sand shovel. Into the sand box they go; then I close its lid. Wait - there's another toy, a plastic lawn mower, half-hidden by the azalea bush. The spotlight on the side of our house, our bow to security, gives everything a moonlike glow.

I do feel secure - but not because of the light. I head toward the porch, the lawn mower under my arm. I remember scenes from distant summer nights: Dashing home after dark with my 10-year-old friends - no grownups (how daring we felt!). Holding hands with a 16-year-old boy, alternating from street-light glare to tree shadow as we hurried to make my 11:30 curfew. Sitting, talking to a funny, warm man on an old-fashioned porch while the evening darkened all around us - halfway in love after three dates.

Sitting on this porch, in fact. I tuck the toy lawn mower into a corner. In all those memories, as in so much of my life, I was straining to be on my way somewhere. What I feel tonight is not excitement, but contentment - a feeling exciting enough in its novelty. But I still like the dark of a summer night, its blend of the ordinary and the mysterious. So I'll just sit for a minute - before I turn on the porch light and go in.

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