I walk through the damp grass, Charlotte and Isaac’s backs to me as their legs and arms pump through the air. Flashes of their shirts’ colors sparkle in the bright sunlight and looking up I don’t see a cloud in the sky. Up ahead my children reach a red bridge. I hear the sound of their feet crossing. Isaac turns and smiles at me declaring, “I run, Mama!”
Charlotte passes him and jumps into the grass. This, again? She turns to him as they both bolt back across the bridge, their laughter leading the way. They stop midway at the highest point of the bridge, stand on their tiptoes, and perch their heads over the railing, “Look Mama, water!” Isaac points and bounces up and down. Without any hesitation he turns running across the bridge and stands at the edge of the small creek. I see his smile, the holding back of anticipation. Charlotte joins him, her smile equally as bright.
Arms tucked to her side in a runner’s pose, she turns to her brother: “I, 2, 3….GO!” The stomping of their feet meets the water splashing into the air.
“Again!” they both chime, and wait for me to answer.
I sing the refrain from a favorite book about a bear hunt: “You can’t go over it. You can’t go under it. You have to go…..”
Hands in the air and legs moving forward both children join me and yell, “THROUGH IT,” before running into the water.
Charlotte holds the door open while Isaac and I walk into the hot summer day. Isaac stands on the sidewalk while Charlotte runs to catch up. I click the open door button on my car fob.
“Alright, let’s go.” I grab Isaac and place him in the car seat. Before I get him buckled he eyes the train lunchbox, empty from our picnic, and declares, “My lunch box.”
“No, it’s your sisters, but, here, you can hold it for now.” Immediately regretting the words as they come out of my mouth while he hugs the lunch box tight. The other car door opens with Charlotte barreling in to reach over her seat in an attempt to take the lunch box back.
“No, my lunchbox!” She yells.
Already frustrated at myself for putting us in this screaming match, I take a breath and offer, “I know it is your lunch box, and you can have it later, but let’s have Isaac hold it for the ride home. Okay?” I know there’s no use in reasoning with a 4-year-old as I sense a hint of pleading in my voice.
The moment I packed the lunchbox I knew I’d regret it.
“Mine!” Charlotte plops down in her seat while I finish buckling Isaac in and move quickly to Charlotte’s side before she tries to grab the box from her brother’s hands. “My lunchbox, please, Mama.” Charlotte tells me without yelling but with her sad and whiny voice.
I snap her buckle, kiss her forehead, and try to reassure her, “Not now, it’s just for the car ride home. You’ll get it back when we’re at the house.”
No sooner than when I close the door, I watch as her face transforms with her mouth opening wide, eyes closing, and a loud wail ensuing. I wonder how long I can stand outside the car to avoid the piercing screams. Glancing at Isaac I see him holding the lunchbox, staring straight ahead, serious and seemingly oblivious to the screams pulsing out next to him. I notice he’s avoiding any eye contact with his sister. I open my door, buckle, start the car, and tell Charlotte, “It’s okay.”
“My lunch box!” Tears fall from her eyes as she reaches towards Isaac.
Pulling out of the parking lot, I turn the radio on and up. Can I outplay her screams? A quick look in the rearview mirror reveals Isaac equally resolute in holding the lunchbox. Charlotte takes a gulp of air, “I want it now! Mine, my lunchbox, Mama. This, my lunchbox!”
Stopping for a red light, I look ahead to the road; we have 45 minutes to drive until we’re home. There’s nothing else to do but to keep driving through the screams and tears.
I wake with fits and starts throughout the night wondering if it’s time for the alarm to sound. At some point I do fall soundly asleep and wake to the beep, beep, beep of the alarm clock. My husband hits snooze while I roll my legs over, stretch, and walk to the bathroom. With a quick wash of my face, I quietly move from the bedroom down the hall. As quiet as I can be. Before anything else I enter the kitchen and drink a glass of water. The sun shines brilliantly. The clock reads 6:30. Gulping down the water I refill my glass and head to my make-shift office in the spare bedroom. Books, toys, and all manner of things-we-don’t-know-where-to-put are in this room. My desk sits in front of the window so that my view only consists of outside. My paper and pen are ready for writing.
I start with one sentence. Followed by another. The words swirling in my head like a waterfall cascading into a running river. When the pen isn’t moving on the paper my mind races: “What will ever come of these words? Will anyone care? What am I doing here?” To force the doubt away, I keep writing. I feel like I’m on top of the bridge with my children on my tip-toes, peering over the edge. My children delight at the water underneath them while I, too, delight in the words that come and the blank pages to fill.
Out the window a runner passes by with headphones in her ear. I see a look of determination, a drive to keep moving forward. She runs, I write; together connected by this early morning work.
I think about my children. I hear Charlotte’s cries for what she wants, what she believes is hers: “I want it now!” Defiant and emotive. Full of energy and conviction. I see Isaac holding onto what he believes is his. Yes, I want this now, too. The words on the page. The making sense of my life and the world surrounding me. The full force of my body pouring into this moment, claiming what is mine. I picture them running over the bridge again and again full of joy and possibility. The brightness of the day mirroring the brightness of their smiles.
The pen goes on the paper. I don’t worry about punctuation or grammar, I don’t wonder if I sound too childish or too obscure, I write. I don’t second guess my emotions or worry about what others will think. I push back the voices of “you can’t do this,” “who are you to write,” and “you’re wasting your time.” I keep walking over the bridge delighting in what I’m finding.
The pen keeps moving. The words continue to come.
“You can’t go over it.
You can’t go under it.”
I think to myself channeling my children’s enthusiasm and persistence: “You have to go through it.”
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a writer, pastor, and mother living in Central Missouri with her husband and two children. Her writing has been featured at The Christian Century, Living Lutheran, The Art of Simple, and Coffee & Crumbs.