The house was thick with children, their voices pelting me like the rain on the kitchen windows. They were pent-up after a long winter, and on this early spring afternoon their energy needed the great outdoors, not my kitchen, in which to expend itself.
The rain let up for a while. Cassie, Daniel, and Luke, my children, and Susan and Boo from the neighborhood migrated out of the kitchen and into the backyard. They were out. Then they were inside again, like mosquitoes swarming through an open back door. I was as April as the weather: sunny one minute, stormy the next. I welcomed the freedom of spring and long afternoons for the kids to play outside again. I resisted the mud and the mess that come with open doors and warm weather.
I stood in the middle of the kitchen, folding laundry. Mother-as-sentry, grouchy and militant. I was slowly losing the battle to defend my kitchen from the kids who rampaged through it for supplies. They were building a fort in the backyard. Too entrenched in my bad mood to enjoy their creativity, I yearned for my pre-children sense of order like a British colonial pining for the glories of the Empire after India has declared its independence.
"Take off your shoes!" I yelled as they tracked mud across the floor. I ran my hand over a cotton T-shirt, smoothing out the wrinkles. I folded pillowcases and towels, arranged them in neat piles. At least I could create order in the laundry basket.
"Can we use this rug for our fort?" Cassie asked, lugging a remnant of off-white carpeting from the basement.
"Is this wood OK to use?" Daniel wanted to know.
"Can we have something to drink?" five-year-old Luke and his friend Tommy asked.
The phone rang. It was Tommy's mom, Betsy, from down the street. As we chatted, I watched Luke climb up on the counter and drag down a box of graham crackers. He and Tommy stuffed bunches of them into their mouths. Crumbs crunched underfoot as they crept away, but I was too relieved to be talking to another adult to interrupt the conversation and scold them.
"Every year when I pray for spring, I forget about mud season," Betsy groaned as Cassie and her older brother, Daniel, slipped by me with tools from the basement. I knew I would find wet-handled hammers later in the garden, but I didn't say anything. I was glad they were going outside.
The rain started up again. The kids reappeared in the kitchen, their ranks swelled with several more friends from the neighborhood, all scheming and arguing about the fort. I ran for sanctuary. I ran upstairs to the bathroom and shut the door. Far from the rain, the crumbs, the chaos, I slipped between the pages of a decorating magazine into the quiet, sunny rooms of a country home in Tuscany.
"Mom!" someone shouted from downstairs, close enough to hear but not to tell whose voice it was.
I ignored it. I glided through colorful kitchens with gleaming countertops and shining wood floors.
"Mom!" The voice got closer. It was Daniel. I continued to ignore him. I did not want to be disturbed. My children had no sense of my need for peace and beauty.
"Mom!" Quick footsteps thurrumped up the stairs. Daniel's voice had a peremptory "it has to be now" tone. "This had better be as urgent as he thinks it is," I growled to myself.
"What?" I yelled, louder than I needed to. I shoved the magazine back on the shelf and swung open the bathroom door.
"What?" I repeated, not censoring the edge in my own voice as Daniel ran toward me.
He came to a stop in front of me, out of breath, his face a puzzle of exasperation. Almost-faded eagerness flickered in his 11-year-old eyes.
"It's a rainbow!" he said.
The sun came out on his face as he looked into mine. "You almost missed it. Come on!"