Under The Fairy Wall

Claudette Sutton - June 17, 2009

Instructions were given shortly after we arrived. For the adults, our objective was Sunday brunch. The child of the house had plans for us first.

“Come to my room,” 5½-year-old Revely Rothschild said, “but close your eyes.”

We kept our eyes averted to the floor until we got to her bedroom door, then we put our hands over our eyes as we walked in.

“Ok,” Revely said. “Open!”

Charles and I make a willing audience for children’s creativity, but our praise was as sincere as it was effusive. The wall beside Revely’s bed was covered with dozens of sheets of white 8½-inch paper, all neatly arranged. Each one was a drawing of a fairy—some in crayon, some paint, some adorned with glitter, some with cat faces; a few were co-created with favorite adults, others were Revely’s own.

“It’s her fairy wall,” Emily said, as her daughter smiled with evident satisfaction. I could imagine the comfort of sleeping beside this wall of spirit-comrades.

We hadn’t visited with Revely’s parents, Emily and Char Rothschild, for a couple of years. A lifetime ago, Emily was our son Ariel’s favorite babysitter, starting when he was less than 2. She came and went from Santa Fe a few times over the years, before settling here several years ago with Char and their daughter Revely. Emily’s mother, Sue, lives with them for several months of the year.

Back in the day, Emily knew Ariel so well that they had their own routines and nicknames. I still sometimes call her Emmy-Bear (toddler-speak for Emily-Babysitter, to distinguish her from our dog Emily, or Emmy-Dog). Until Emily reminded me, I had forgotten how Ariel liked to mix his foods (we used to call it the “combine-and-swirl” style). Revely is a separator. She likes her salad ingredients one by one, Emily explained, not mixed together under dressing.

“Isn’t it trippy, this growing-up stuff?” I said, vocabulary defying me. How do you find words to capture the mysteries of time? Ariel, the adorable toddler she had pushed in a stroller all over town, was finishing his second year of college. Emily now has a child older than Ariel was when they first started playing together. There’s something sweet and gratifying, other times sad, about this relentless unfolding of life.

Over brunch, adults caught each other up on changes since our last visit. Revely slit a hole in a baby potato with her thumb and slid a cherry tomato into it. My mind slipped back to our own early days as a family, when our small, busy house centered around our child: artworks on the walls, children’s books on the low bookshelves, chicken-dogs in the freezer. This house is a girl-centered version: clothes in umpteen varieties of pink, dolls arranged in a “manger,” fairy costumes in the closet. Skipping is Revely’s preferred means of locomotion. I pulled up memories of Ariel at Revely’s age and—brain-gears creaking more slowly—tried to picture Revely as a teen or adult.

All that week, in my mind I had been stretching to the immediate future. The erstwhile toddler was about to come home for the summer. Practicing verbs for my Spanish class homework, I wrote, “Nos quedaron cinco días de la libertad” (we have five days left of freedom). I was kind of joking—my arms were already tingling in anticipation of that first big hug at the airport—and kind of not.

Inconceivable as this seems when our children are  Revely’s age, parents do reach a point of mixed feelings when the progeny come back for an extended time, landing home with overstuffed suitcases and ravenous appetite. Of my 20-year-old son, I can say without coercion that I not only love him; I like him. His sense of humor, kindness and fresh perspectives on human nature delight my days. Still, after two years as “empty-nesters,” Charles and I have settled into a simpler, quieter life. We don’t miss the coterie of teens coming through the house at all hours, or the late-night phone calls beginning, “Everyone’s fine, but….”

Perhaps there’s something about summer that invites this mental stock-taking. While those of us with college-age children regroup for their return back home, those with younger ones reevaluate the past school year and plan for the next. For many teachers and parents, these plans include finding viable ways to incorporate outdoor education into the school day—for which “Out the Door, Into the Wild” offers a wealth of reasons and ideas.

The economic downturn is forcing most of us to reevaluate how we use our time and money. This might mean planting gardens, with a portion allocated to the needy, or getting creative about childcare. A growing number of families struggle to keep themselves fed and housed. I hope you won’t miss Judith Nasse’s article “Check your Stress at the Door!” It’s in our “Preschool” department, though many of her suggestions for affordable, meaningful ways to spend time together would benefit all of us.

As the seasons shift and the economy fluctuates, family changes go on. Charles and I drove down to Albuquerque a few days ago to pick up Ariel from the airport. By halfway back to Santa Fe, I was already wondering how I could handle saying goodbye to him the next time. Ah, motherhood! I looked over my shoulder at the bulging suitcases crammed in the back of the Subaru. Don’t worry, I told myself, covering my eyes. They’re probably filled with fairies.

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