Her nose is an inch from mine when I open my eyes. Her breath on my face stirred me from a light sleep. I don’t jump this time. “Morning, my girl,” I say. Her little face lights up with a smile. “Can I have a waffle now?” she asks. “Sure sweetie.” I pull myself out of bed, grab my robe and trudge out of the room behind her.
I follow her down to the kitchen, where she flings open the freezer door, emerges with a box of frozen waffles and slams the door shut. She hands me the box, then turns and runs into the family room. Moments later, I hear Sponge Bob singing about splitting his pants.
I attack the morning rush with the energy of a snail. For the next hour I feed, dress, and prepare my three girls for their day. As usual, we run to the corner with only moments to spare. The bus pulls away and I turn and walk back to the house. I close my eyes for a second, against the cold wind that has lingered far too long this winter.
I knew we had found the right field by the smell that filled the air. The scent of fresh strawberries drifted into the mini-van through the open windows as we parked on the side of the dirt road by a back field at Sweet Berry Farm.
The weight of my grief mingled uncomfortably with my daughter’s laughter . Nan was all I thought about as I stepped from the car and my kids ran past me into the field. I looked out over the fields and breathed in the sweet scent.
She would have loved to have seen this. Her great-granddaughters ran up and down the rows of plants in the bright sun and enjoyed the bounty of God’s good Earth. I saw her face in my mind, smiling. I heard her gently giggling at them. I felt her sense of contentment just watching them.
I quickly shut the door and the cold behind me and fall into my morning routine. I straighten up the house, make the beds, get the laundry started and pour myself more coffee. I log into my computer with the intention of working. I’m distracted by email. Then I make the rounds. I browse Facebook, breeze through Twitter and read the news. Finally, I’m ready to get to work. And I stare at the computer screen.
Sweat began to drip down the sides of my face in the noon heat, mixing, maybe with my tears. We had cut our vacation short. This was our last bit of fun before we turned for home to be with my family. The funeral was three days away.
Holding a daisy out in front of her, my four year-old bounced toward me. I bent down and tucked it behind her ear, surrounded by her light brown curls. She smiled at me with lips stained red from fresh strawberries. Her hands were dripping with the juice. She skipped away to pick more berries alongside her sister.
I searched the glove compartment for napkins. We needed napkins. I wondered how I could live in this world without Nan. As I tore the through the middle console, I realized my guide, my strength, was gone. And I still couldn’t find any napkins. Tears fell lightly to the crunchy, crumb covered floor as I looked under the seats for something to clean the red juice from their hands.
At 2:45 my computer screen is now full of words. They don’t mean much to me, but they are written and my deadline will be met. I find my coat and shoes, put the leash on the dog and walk out to the corner to wait for the bus. Surrounded by gray skies and brown lifeless tress, there are no signs that spring is here except for the squirrels that run through the yard, taunting my little dog.
The girls climbed into the car covered with strawberry juice. I hesitated to get back in my seat. I stood and gazed out over the fields one more time. My vision was blurred, the effect of salty tears on contact lenses. “Everything is going to be okay.” Nan’s favorite saying seemed to float to me on the summer breeze.
Finally, a smile came to my lips. I didn’t know what the days ahead would bring, but I longed to wrap her wisdom around me like a blanket, with the scent of the strawberry fields.
“Homework time,” I announced. My girls fell silent for the first time all night. I know they hate it. I hate it. How is it that at my age I’m still afraid of fractions? Following an hour and a half of pleading and complaining, my first grader completes her ten minutes of work. My oldest asks an age old question repeatedly. “Why do I need math anyway?”
Following baths, bedtime stories and a few more complaints, my girls are finally tucked in for the night. When they dose off, I return, kissing each girl’s soft cheek lightly. I stand there for awhile staring at their peaceful, sleeping faces and I’m thankful, hopeful and content.