The ceiling is flawless. It is white, gently textured, and spans from wall to wall, corner to corner without a single break. It has never been wired for electricity, or at least I doubt so, and this simple fact adds a quiet gentleness to the room because warm lamplight surrounds us. The walls rise up to meet the ceiling and I wonder if they wish they could hide the hand prints and foot prints and other various smears that defile their white paint. I have tried to bathe them. I have tried to wash away the dirt from their faces, but no matter how gently or harshly I scrub, the dirt stays and I find that the cheap paint runs down my arm and drips from my elbow instead. If the walls are ashamed, they don't show it. They stretch and reach and touch the edges of that flawless ceiling anyway, standing tall as if proud to display the marks of fun and childhood. Maybe it's the ceiling that feels ashamed.
It's quiet in the room. The two boys are curled in their bunk bed, Miles on top, Carson on bottom. The extra mattress we brought for the girl remains forgotten and tucked under the bunk. She is sprawled out on the floor. She likes it there, believe it or not. The white marble tile feels cold, hard, and unforgiving to my adult mind. But to her, a simple quilt between the tile and her body provides warmth, comfort, softness and a childlike sense of overwhelming satisfaction. The only sound in the room is my own voice and the occasional squeak of the rocking chair in which I sit. It's different than the small, wooden rocking chair from the story I'm reading to the children. My rocking chair is big and soft, fluffy even. If I wanted, the back could recline to almost flat, and a footstool, covered in extra cotton and soft fabric, could rise like magic. I wonder what the characters in our story would think of my rocking chair. Would it inspire Pa to make one just like it for Ma? Maybe. More likely, though, I think it would be Pa's wooden one that would inspire me.
My feet are curled up underneath me, the book resting gently in my lap. The words from the story fill the air and create a living movie inside each of our heads. It's a different movie for each of us and I feel that we are all relating to different characters. The comments and expressions coming from McKenzie and Carson tell me that they are relating to the two children, Mary and Laura, respectively. Of course, I relate to Ma. I am captivated by how raising children in the 1800's is so similar to raising children today, and so remarkably different. Miles, most likely, is relating to their trustworthy dog, Jack.
Then all together and all at once, we laugh. The sound bounces off the flawless ceiling and the dirty walls and rests in our ears. The power of words.
The laughter dies down and I continue. The movie plays in my head as the words form in my throat and sound in my ears and I am shaken by the beauty of it. I am seeing everyday events. I am reading about moments. And they are remarkably beautiful. The author's prose is captivating and I find myself interested in things as simple as a child licking a molasses candy stick. I am interested in the moments of her life - and I realize that I want to be more present in the moments of my own.
The book closes and I slowly uncurl my feet from underneath me. "No!" the children protest. "Is that the end of the chapter?" I nod and smile and open my mouth to answer their next question before it's even spoken. "Not another chapter tonight," I say. But I open the book one last time to read the title of the next one out loud. They groan at the dangling carrot and I almost hear them thinking, I can't wait for tomorrow night! This makes me smile even wider and I kiss their faces goodnight. They are interested in the moments of life, too.
Dream well, my children. And tomorrow will be filled with beautiful moments of our own. I will watch for them. I will catch them and I will write them for you. Someday you can read our own story, built from the moments of our life.