Stars (or “The Slightly Over-Wrought Version of How We Got Here”)

“Wow, look at the stars, Mommy. There are a million stars!”

I paused the frantic to-do list in my head and looked up at the sky while the dog pulled me toward his favorite patch of grass. Wow. There WERE a million stars up there.

“This is why we bought this house, right Mommy? So we can see the stars?”

I looked down at your tiny figure, lit by the antique (ok, really old) lamp post shining warmly in our front yard. Standing there wide-eyed in your football pajamas and bare feet, you radiated an innocence and awe that I wished I could hold onto forever.

As I smiled at you, the last 12 years of my life flashed through my mind. I wanted to tell you about the 5 apartments.

The first one, a basement with damp carpets and spiders so mutated that I swore they grew larger when I tried to kill them.

The second one that we spent a week scrubbing and spackling (57 holes in the living room wall) before we could even set foot inside.

The third one, where we met two of our lifelong friends, and where you began your journey.

The fourth one with the slightly unhinged neighbors who had domestic disputes with their cats and let their chickens roam through our yard.

The fifth one, where our living room wasn’t technically in the apartment, and where we grew so depressed we almost gave up on ever having a place of our own.

I wanted to tell you about that one night when we sat on the floor of our bedroom in Apartment #3, looking from our $155,000 in debt to my unemployment application, held each other’s hands and cried.

I wanted to tell you about the first year of your life.

It was the year I learned to make so many meals out of a bag of lentils that I could probably open a legume-themed restaurant. It was the year we moved to Apartment #4 to give you a better life. It was the year your dad earned his college degree, came home and told me about his long-overdue promotion, and wrapped me tightly in his arms, where we stayed in a deliriously grateful embrace between the stove and the refrigerator while you napped upstairs.

I wanted to tell you about the nights I sat up in bed and listened to police cars, fire trucks, and trains whiz by Apartment #5. I wanted to tell you how much I had hated cooking in that closet-sized kitchen; or how tiring it was to carry you, your sister, and 8 grocery bags up the street in the dead of winter because we weren’t allowed to park in the driveway.

I wanted to tell you about the meticulous checkbook balancing, the ½ full cupboards, and the days when I had to choose between apples and tortilla chips.

I wanted to tell you about the countless car rides we took while you and your sister napped in the back seat- sipping coffee and pointing out houses that held some resemblance to our dream home…and promising each other we’d find it one day.

I wanted to tell you, but I looked at your sweet, blissful little face and all I could say was, “Yup, Bud. This is why we bought it.”

Then I thought about what I’d accomplished so far that night.

Baskets of laundry and rounds of dishes; cleaning out the fridge; gluing the sole back onto your brand new shoe; feeding and bathing a little girl that lives by the mantra “Live Naked; Stay Dirty; Eat Only Ketchup!”; slicing a watermelon that no one would actually eat; and making a cup of coffee with no coffee in it because in my rush I forgot to add grinds.

But I hadn’t looked at any stars.

“Want to sit on the porch and star-gaze with me?” I asked.

You scurried onto a rocking chair and craned your neck as far as you could, pointing out every star you could find. When you grew quiet, and I glanced over to see if you were ok (because let’s face it, you’re rarely quiet), you were staring up with a smile on your face, clutching your favorite blanket around your shoulders like the little old man that you are. Quietly, you breathed to yourself, “It’s so beautiful out here.”

All the things I still had to do faded out of my ever-whirring mind, and I looked around at my yard, in front of my house, in my quaint little corner of the world. It WAS beautiful out here. We had done it. We had finally made it. All those years, all the struggle, all the dreams and the fears and the doubts, all the lentil meatloaf…maybe one day I’d tell you. But for now, for this moment in time, I was just going to sit in my rocking chair, on my porch, with my little old soul of a toddler, and silently thank my lucky stars.

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