I drive up to the house. There are two boys playing basketball at a stand in the driveway. They both say hi to me, even though they have never seen me before. I walk up to the door, and knock, and I am greeted by a squeal and a hug. I go in to see familiar faces.
We talk as LaVerne finishes up the preparations for dinner. I am afforded special honors as the guest along with Juliana, since it is her birthday. I would love to just sink into the background, to watch and observe, and just feel like a part of this great family, but I get even more included by being asked questions, and talking about my divorce, my ex, lots of different stuff, my work. We talk and eat, 8 kids, two parents, one guest, sitting around a table, with two of them at the counter right next to the table.
We finish eating, and kids trickle away, and just a few of us are left around the table talking. Then LaVerne starts asking Juliana what we're going to play for her birthday. The decision is made for hotbox. LaVerne gives me clothes to borrow, and I put them on, and join everyone else shoeless outside, where we run from blanket to blanket, trying to avoid getting hit by the ball that two people are throwing back and forth trying to catch us. I scream as I run, afraid that I am taking a risk by going at that time. I don't even notice it. I just do it by instinct, as I rush toward the safety of the blanket. Olivia grabs my hand, and wants me to run with her at a riskier move than I would have taken, and we run for it. I get more and more used to the game as it goes on, and take more risks, and scream louder as I run. I am terrified and thrilled as I step on the blanket safe each time. We play until the call is made that it is time for cake.
We all go inside and sing happy birthday, then eat cake. A few of us end up left at the kitchen table again, talking. I get a text, and LaVerne says I should go check it, so I go and grab my phone, and explain the story behind it. A little while later my mom calls, and asks how I'm doing. I tell her I'm with LaVerne and ask if she'd like to talk to her. Alexis, Jackie, and I listen to half of the conversation as they talk, and crack up at certain parts, because we have no idea what they are talking about. They talk for a long time, and LaVerne eventually goes into another room, and we start talking more, find out what is going on with them, they ask me about my work. Jackie starts picking up the dishes, and I follow in step, helping out. I rinse of dishes, hearing the sound of children around playing, and think that this is wonderful. I end up alone in the kitchen, and follow the sound of voices to the bedroom. There are four or five kids in there, LaVerne on the bed. I sit down, and just soak in the atmosphere. LaVerne shows me her pillows that she just made, and I watch Juliana play with the baby, while Olivia asks me if I am going to stay the night, then tells me she doesn't want me to stay the night.
Then it's bedtime, and the younger kids are directed to bed, to brush their teeth and wash their faces. They change into their pajamas, and ask LaVerne to sing to them. She sings Amazing Grace, and I sing along. She and Juliana sing a few more songs, and I join in when I know them.
I leave, and I am left with this feeling, this feeling that I have been part of something beautiful today, that I was invited into this family for a day, and got to take part in its beauty and power. It is refreshing, and I realize it is what I want. There is a line from a movie that says that children are what happens when your love spills out because you can't contain it just the two of you. I saw that physical reality today. It was powerful and beautiful. To me, that is what is worth grasping for, sacrificing for, striving for. I used to go over to this Hawaiian lady's house sometimes for their Sunday dinner, and I felt that same thing.
And LaVerne just amazed me. She just went about doing everything, and she wasn't stressed. She just seemed peaceful and happy with her life, like 9 kids, no big deal. And I'm sure it's not always like that, and that there are times when things for hard, but I imagine for the most part, she's learned to let go of the things that don't matter, and just focus on the things that do, because she's just so easy-going, and seemingly contented with her life.
Today was beautiful.