The best part of our house—the one we’re renting for 2 years, because we don’t know what we’re doing with our lives right now—is the sunporch. Around here, they call it a 3-season porch. I’ve stretched it into a 3.5-season porch with a heavy-duty space heater, blankets, and fingerless gloves I knitted myself (so proud!).
The porch is made of windows, and the windows are surrounded by pine trees. If you look up our address on Google street view, all you see is pines. It’s difficult for visitors, but it’s a tiny woodland hideout for us. Hummingbirds zip around at eye level, tucking into the crevices of the branches with speed and style. Squirrels race through the yard with alertness as though a fox was on the hunt.
The inner wall of the porch is mostly windows as well. A medium window provides light to the staircase inside. When the bathroom is in use, I do my makeup by the light of that window, in the enormous mirror hanging on the stairway wall. The natural light makes me see myself differently than in the bathroom vanity lights. Daylight is much more telling than lightbulbs, but it points out its observations graciously, without criticism.
The front door, leading to the porch, has a large window cut out of the top half. This is exactly the door I would’ve picked out if I was the one doing the choosing, some 100 years ago. It says to the world, “Do come in. It’s all windows here. Nothing to hide.”
The remaining half of the interior side of the porch is also made of windows, looking into the living room. This is one of its best features, as I can keep an eye on the kids while I’m working at my desk, which sits facing the pine trees. All I have to do is swivel around to see the kids jumping on the couch or watching videos on their iPads.
I’m almost always on the porch between the hours of 1 and 4pm, when the kids are in “resting time” (a big kid version of naptime) followed by “screen time.” My husband will come out to say hello, usually around 3 or 3:30. He’s starting to wind down his work for the day and needs to stretch his legs. He will stand with a wide stance looking at the pines, vaguely nodding his head. With an air of “I don’t expect any big news,” he’ll ask, “How are things going out here?” I rarely have big news to share, so I almost always say, “Just fine. Working on _____. How are things for you?” Sometimes I’ll get up and hug him. His hugs are tight and strong and I squeeze hard in hopes that he will feel as secure and alive as his hugs make me feel.
Sometimes, one of the kids will look up from the iPad on the other side of the window. They still, after more than a year living here, think it’s something really special to look at us through a window. Even during my morning walks, if they happen to be looking outside when I come home, they will wave frantically and I can hear a muffled, “Mommy! Mommy! Over here!” And it’s like Christmas when I look up and wave. For kids, repetition doesn’t much diminish the joy of a thing.
Yesterday, it was my middle child looking like Christmas at his dad and me through the window on the porch. His smile was as big as he could make it, which is very wide for his little face. His front teeth are permanent, but most of the rest are still baby teeth. So the front teeth are prominent and not paired evenly yet. His smile and laughter are so easy for him, consuming his whole body, which wiggles and shines with glee, just for looking at his parents through a window.
He holds not a drop of self-questioning, not a hint of hiding or composing himself. That term, to “compose” oneself is hideous. The verb should be reserved for musicians, artists, and poets, creating something new and honest. When people do it to themselves, it’s more like painting a muraled wall white.
The light from the window clarifies every line, every hue in my child’s face. It displays the candor of which I am jealous. In my son, I see a simplicity that is not the absence of complexity but the freedom from checking himself, managing himself, or behaving himself. He simply lives. He does not look into a mental mirror when smiling at me like that. He doesn’t wonder if his hair is out of place or consider for a second whether I’m noticing his teeth out of alignment. He does not consider whether I will enjoy his full-faced, unmitigated, for-no-reason smile. A child’s freedom comes from looking through windows more than into mirrors.
[Addendum: I just had a Jumanji moment. I wrote this yesterday morning and came back to edit it this morning. When describing the pines that frame the sunporch windows, yesterday’s version only told about the hummingbirds. Today I added squirrels fleeing imaginary foxes, because the squirrels are really necessary to round out the picture. And I was teasing them by saying they run around like a fox is chasing them, pointing out their paranoia. We live in a tight little suburb, and one side of the sunporch, I can reach out and touch my neighbor’s fence. I’ve not seen any wildlife in our neighborhood bigger than a couple of early morning skunks. Definitely no foxes.
However, this morning, moments after I wrote the line about the paranoid squirrels, a fox came galloping through my yard. It was large and orange and had no place to go in our narrow slice of land but right next to my window.
Now I must read through a fourth time to make sure there are no references to ____. Better not risk writing it out.]