We had just recently moved to our new home in South Knoxville; our oldest (and at the time, only) was three. It was a perfect spring day, so we laid a blanket out in the front yard. I brought a book and Baylor brought his cars — my arms, legs, back, and occasionally face provided a track that sufficed as a substitute for the Hot Wheels loops left behind in his room.
We were in our own little world, and for a moment, that world felt pretty perfect.
Wrapped up in Bay’s happy humming and car noises, I didn’t hear anyone coming, but a shadow darkened the pages of my book. I looked up and saw our elderly neighbor Edna quietly standing beside our blanket. I sat up straighter and said hello. Before this moment, she had very little to say to us, and certainly nothing terribly kind; she had experienced one tragedy after another shortly after we had moved in, and the arrival of new neighbors and all that comes with it did not seem to agree with her.
“How old is he?” she asked without greeting. I couldn’t read her face; I had no idea where this encounter was going. As a still newish mom and a young one, I was bracing to be told what I was doing wrong, especially from someone who didn’t seem to care for us much.
“He’s three. Baylor, can you say hi?”
“HI!” he yelled without missing a beat of his car chase.
She stood looking at us for what felt like forever, my hand up like a visor, waiting and watching. Her mouth twitched a little.
“You spend a lot of time with him.” Did I? I guess I did. I stayed home, he had a short pre-k program he attended through the week, but other than that and the occasional sleepover with grandparents, we were together. I never gave it much thought, especially when it was just he and I at home while my husband was working: we just were.
I, like any mother, never felt like it was enough, and certainly not something worth noting.
Her mouth twitched a little again.
“You know…” Long pause. Tears began to form in her eyes, her shoulders stiff. “I just wish I had done more of this.” She gestured briskly towards us. “I was always too worried about cleaning or making a big dinner and getting everything done. There’s just always a lot to do when you still have them all at home. And a husband, too. I just really wish I had taken more time. I really do. It’s good that you’re doing this, you should always do this.”
We talked a little more that day, and from that point out she would bring little treats to Baylor or invite him to ride his radio flyer tricycle in her driveway. It was a dramatic and welcomed shift from the previous tension, and Miss Edna was a part of our lives from then until we moved away.
I have no idea what exactly made her come over that day, but her words have stayed with me for a decade. I hadn’t thought much of our day in the sun, and I can’t say I was doing it with intention at the time, but that conversation changed that. I know that as young, tired moms, we can get frustrated with the well-meaning platitudes of older strangers, friends, or family who encourage us cherish the moments, but that day I saw the full heart behind it, and I’ve chosen to be thankful for the reminders.