Quiet. This is the quietest experience I’ve ever had, save maybe a Church, or a walk on a snow-covered path in the woods. Even in the snow-filled woods there is the sound of my feet crunching, birds chirping, and, if it warms up enough during the day, and I stay still, the sound of ice melting.

I am alone in a four-bedroom house in the White Mountains. No one but our family (my parents, sister & her kids, along with me, Wally & Petra) is staying in this little cluster of houses. There was a family with kids tumbling out on their scooters across the way but they left this morning. Right now it's just about noon, a gray, solitary day, and everyone is out but me. Even Petra, asleep in the car with my dad.

I feel like I can be here in this moment and begin to put together all the hints and signs and symbols of the last few weeks and see how they relate, see what themes or lessons emerge.


That was all I’d written – Tuesday of last week – other than my usual scattered notes in my journal. I bought the 3 older kids “nature journals” and asked them to sketch clovers and in the evenings we drank wine in the light just beginning to fade, staring at the mountains, dreaming of a mountain life. Heather and her boys came over one day. The kids rolled down a beautiful wildflower hill and went swimming and played tag after dinner. We went to a waterpark and to Storyland, climbed Cannon Mountain and hiked various trails and made our way through the gorge at Franconia Notch. We had bbqs and ate watermelon on the back porch and made up swimming routines. It was hard work—schlepping Petra on hikes and dealing with her restless nights and early mornings—the hard work that child-care of young children always is, but it did, in many little moments, feel like vacation.

On the morning of the last full day I turned on my phone around 7:30 in the parking lot of Price Chopper where I’d gone with Petra and my dad. I read a text from a friend in California that sent my stomach plummeting. She referred with horror to something that had happened at Petra’s daycare, assuming I knew about it. I didn’t know, and drove back to the house shaking and almost missing all the turns. When I googled the owner’s name I found the news stories immediately (here's one from later on in the media frenzy) and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it and all the many layers and levels of sadness to this story since. 

I am absolutely crushed for the family and for MaryEllen, and in a much smaller, less dramatic way, so uncertain now about where Petra will go when I need to return to work. All the puzzle pieces of my life and the balancing act of grad school, freelance work and taking care of the kids seems to be based around, built on top of, dependent on, that feeling I had about MaryEllen's place--the joy, the near pinching myself relief each time I walked in the door and felt Petra welcomed into such a warm, safe, loving atmosphere. 

I can't even begin to capture all that MaryEllen did for these children but just to give a small picture: Wally adores her, calls her "Mary Yellow" (thinks thats her name, and it so fits), loves to pick up or drop off Petra if the timing works. Whenever he comes in she gives him a giant hug and immediately brings him over to hold a frog or look at the fish or talk to the birds. She is everywhere at once, blowing bubbles, handing out play-doh, unpacking food from Fresh Direct, drawing smiley-faces on banana peels, always always always it seems when I come in in the mornings I find her reading the kids stories and sings them songs. I come in at all different times, and pick up at different times, and each time the world I walk into is pure magic. 

I can never figure out how she is so hyper-organized, flexible, responsive and interactive with the parents and yet so completely immersed and devoted in childcare, bouncing babies, teaching one child how to comfort another, leading them in a circle song. She is a whirlwind, a force of nature, the most giving, loving caretaker. If I ever walk out with another parent we spend the blocks to the subway singing her praises. The children are always so happy. In the past I had thought parents rationalized daycare as "better" than being home with the parent but after meeting MaryEllen I couldn't help but agree that Petra's days were fuller and more meaningful in her care. 

We left the White Mountains yesterday. I'm in Massachusetts now. It's still quiet, pretty, though not nearly as dramatically beautiful as where we were. Wally's on the back porch and Petra is asleep. I hadn't even begun--was just ready to start--writing with the perspective of that little bit of distance from my NYC life and now it seems I won't be able to regain that view from the quiet front porch a little ways off the Kancamagus Highway.


  1. Tragic...

    I wrote you an email a while back, don't know if you got it.

    Glad you had some quiet time...change is one of those horizons ever before us, isn't it?

  2. Jeanette - I don't see the email. I will look...so true about change. You're always wise and understanding.


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