The first time I noticed the sound I thought a car alarm was going off somewhere in the distance. It was a dull screeching in the background as we played outside all day and in the evening James mentioned that he had heard it too. We shrugged it off but the next day it was back, and louder and we realized- it was Brood X, the cicadas that had been waiting 17 years to hatch and fill our lives with noisy bugs.
I had known of course that they were coming, as it had become a touchstone in casual conversations for anyone living in the cicada swath. I saw them crawling everywhere and covering trees when I went for my morning walk, and noticed the kids were fascinated with the way they left their translucent shells on everything. They were also terrified every time the noisy bugs flew at them, buzzing in their hair or sticking to their ankles. I pried one out of Maddie’s mouth and gagged at the thought of eating one of the bugs, though I know many people did.
The noise was the backdrop for the early months of summer, this summer where we all emerged- not unlike the bugs – from a pandemic year, blinking and calling to each other and figuring out how things work now. Henry started t-ball, partially because he (and James) love baseball and partially because I want to get to know more of the families in our neighborhood after a year of social distance and masked smiles. All three of the kids had birthdays, and our pandemic pod – and other friends! Hooray for big parties again!- showed up for almost identical parties a few weeks apart to commemorate the 5, 3, and 1 year old keeping us on our toes. Maddie’s birthday hits especially hard because so much of her first year was hidden. She’s my barnacle baby, my first to have stranger danger and scream when I leave a room. She is the impossibly precious gift that still feels surprising.
We are living in water this summer, hitting the splash pad or pool almost daily. But in perhaps the greatest result of a year of cancelled plans and limited social circles – most of our days are spent in play, meaning, Henry and Etta playing while I take a break from parenting. They imagine and build and fight and make-up all day everyday, inevitably culminating in Etta refusing to climb out of Henry’s bunkbed at night. Sometimes he complains loud enough that I remove her, but most nights he just resigns himself, rolls over and passes out, while she merrily plays and reads and takes up his space for hours. Henry finally dropped his nap last winter and while it has substantially impacted my ability to stay caught up on bad reality TV, it has allowed me a unique look at my oldest. I watch him sit silently as he listens to an audiobook, or watch him at work building structures or making plans. On the weekends we try to slip out together and exercise, sometimes going for a run (me)/ scooter ride (him) along the river or sometimes practicing swimming at the pool. As much as I hate the idea of Maddie leaving babyhood, I love the joy of older kids and the fun they bring.
What were you doing when they last came, Henry asked me one day and I laughed and told him, I was a child. I was about to go into my senior year of high school and I had so many plans and so many questions and knew everything and nothing all at once. And what will I be doing, when they come back, he wanted to know. And my head exploded, heart choked. You could be out of college, could be thinking about getting married or having kids, could have a job- will you still want to be an engineer-baseball player-lifegaurd?- you will be gone.
Because there is a lot I don’t know about what the state of the world, of my family, will be in 17 years when the insect infestation returns but this I know:
James won’t be coaching Henry’s t-ball team, won’t be reminding a troupe of 5 year olds that they need to watch the ball instead of finding cicadas on the field and sticking them to their jerseys. I won’t wake up in the middle of the night to Etta yelling that she needs a snuggle, only as soon as I scoot into that bottom bunk, it becomes a moment where she proceeds to tell me a long story instead, and I am so tired, but also those moments are the greatest moments. Madeleine, my Maddie Lo, my sweet chunky baby girl will be about to go off on her own and I’ll be trying to hold on tight as she pushes me back and I know it will break me a little even as I’m proud. We won’t be together, always together, always straining under the suffocating weight of little people with big needs who beat on the door when I lock it to take a shower and beg me not to go for my morning walk or coffee with friends or anything that has me away from them. I just want to be with you all of the time, Henry told me recently through tears when I explained that I just wanted to do something by myself and that, that will be different next time I open the door to the deafening roar of Brood X.
There is a chance that this consuming, refining, exhilarating , exhausting time of a house full of children could be almost over.
The other day we were loading the car when one of the kids commented on how quiet it was and I realized- they were gone. The cacaphonous din in the trees had gone silent. There were still some shells about but on the whole, it was like they had been erased, nature preparing to keep the secret for another 17 years. It came and was loud and consumed everything and then it was gone so fast.
And so it goes.