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The Space to Breathe

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(this post was written a few days ago)

At this very moment, there is silence around me.

Truthfully, it is not silent, because there is a ticking clock, the sound of a dog roaming outside, and an occasional chicken chattering in the backyard.  But the normal soundtrack of children arguing and “I’m hungry” is absent, so to me these other noises are still a kind of silence.

We are finishing up five days of housesitting for friends. They only live fifteen minutes from us, but I’m fairly convinced that when you turn onto their dirt road, away from the matching houses of the neighborhood in which their home is nested, you cross a portal into a different zone of living.

A dog reminiscent of a polar bear approaches you as you exit your car.  As you enter their sun-filled house your eyes move from the shimmering honey jars stacked over their kitchen sink (fresh from their own bees) to the big picture window where colorful woodpeckers and chickadees dance on the bird feeder outside and finally your gaze lands on the books, and then more books.

It is a home in which the doors are never locked (that’s not a metaphor, they really aren’t ever locked that I know of). The most striking feature, aside from the generous hearts that run this home, is the room to breathe.   Inside the house there is space.  Outside the house there are benches, swings, hills to climb, welcoming paths and lanterns in the woods.

For our family of six, who live in a small three-bedroom house, space is a gift. For our family, in which a step onto our driveway means we’re practically stepping onto our neighbor’s driveway, space is a gift.

For our son (a young man of ten years with three sisters), the space calls him to adventure. He’s had a challenging winter of hating school and suffocating in a small space with sisters who like to be in charge and highlight his mistakes. Here, he rises early, checks the animals, and heads out to the woods, a sturdy walking stick in hand.  He doesn’t complain about taking out the trash, or cleaning up a mess. He’s more patient and confident, in this space.

For our two older daughters, they’ve left email and other technology behind and now venture into books and board games.  “I haven’t read a lot this year,” my oldest daughter told me last week.  This week she has read for hours, diving deep into stories.

“Can I please play on the iPad,” she asks me when she finally tires of reading.

“No,” I answer, though inwardly I’m wondering if I’m drawing the line too firm. She’s fourteen and I’m trying to loosen the reigns.

A few minutes later she is building card houses on the hearth of the fireplace and I relax.

When their friends spend the night, they gather around me.

“We’re bored,” the four girls stand before me, expectantly.

“I can’t wait to see what you come up with,” I answer, as I continue to make dinner.

A few minutes later they are in coats and boots traipsing out into the wet, cool weather. Soon after that they are in a tournament of card games.

And for our youngest, our six-year-old, her older siblings are actually playing games with her, and being mostly nice about it.  She’s figured out Hot-Cross Buns and Beethoven on the piano (we don’t have one at our house, this house has two), and she proudly walks in with two eggs from the chicken roost. “They’re still warm,” she says.

From a winter that has brought regular strife amongst the kids and a lot of angst over decisions for my husband and I, this pocket of time and space is a bit of healing.  A time to slow down.  A time to remember to play. A time to sit in silence and breathe.

Tomorrow we will have to cross the threshold again, back into the world of work, school, expectations, and technology. But this time has soothed the lingering scabs of a tough season.

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