I hadn’t slept in about three nights when she knocked on the door.
I hadn’t washed my hair in as many days. Or showered.
I was wearing the pink T Shirt that I never wear in public. Because it’s soft, but not presentable. One sock on, one off, my sweat pants tangled around me. The night stand covered in cough drops, tissues and an assortment of medicines, I’d coughed my way into an aching side that made it hard to breathe, to laugh, and impossible to answer the door.
But my boys heard the knocking. I’d been ignoring my cell phone for an hour. I had no clue what time it was, all that mattered is that my children had let me keep sleeping after nights of not sleeping and the heat of the cough had banked down to a slow burn.
No contact lenses in, hair in a rat’s nest, I saw her outlined in the bedroom door frame and what’s a girl to do other than sit up.
Turns out I’d slept through an hour of the boys’ play date. Saturday was supposed to be “pack for South Africa” day. And packing for travel to other countries is best done without assistance from children. And I was supposed to have dropped them off an hour ago and Lisa had arrived for Zoe and I still couldn’t see properly, or breathe or think.
And the phone was ringing to ask where the boys were and I’d grabbed the first real shirt I could find and dragged it over my head and rasped my hellos and sorrys and promises to deliver them. But while I’m talking Lisa is telling me in the background that she’ll drop them off and I’m nodding in her direction because really she’s still just a blur to me but the outlines of her friendship are real. I can see them.
Over the counter top with the long list of everything I’m supposed to do today.
Except I can’t see the list because my daughter broke the arm off one side of my glasses and I’m squinting into the rest of today and holding hard my aching ribs; it’s hard to swallow.
Control is an illusion we women, we mothers hold tight to. We white knuckle wanting things to go the way we planned them.
We like our lists because they make us feel safe and productive and like if I can just write it down then I know it will turn out just so.
My dad’s called at least twice to make sure our plane tickets are actually confirmed. We booked them back in February before my new passport had even been applied for. I can hear the tears in his voice as he tells me, “it’s just so hard to believe you’re actually coming.”
Zoe was four months old the last time we were home in South Africa.
So I write down “confirm plane tickets. Again.” on my list and then I oversleep on packing day and my children haven’t been fed and it’s 9:45 and they’re opening the door to unexpected neighbors and embarrassing me with their complete lack of embarrassment at assuming Jeffrey’s mom will feed them, “It’s OK mom, we’ll just get food at their house.”
There was this story they used to tell back in Sunday school. A riddle really. A trick question — “Who is my neighbor?” And you probably know it too, the answer that comes back in the tale of the Good Samaritan and the challenge to “Be” a good neighbor, and to quit worrying who qualifies as your neighbor.
Just go be a good neighbor, already, Jesus says.
I tell my boys not to forget their sweaters, to put on shoes, not crocs, to say please and thank you and I hug Lisa and try not to cough on her. I do it all with my eyes half blind. Lack of contact lenses and gratitude both making it hard to see properly through the grace of friendship.
I close the door. I put an episode of Dora on for Zoe. I head back to the bedroom. I’m still coughing. Jeffrey’s mom – who I have yet to even meet officially – calls and tells me my boys got dredged in mud at the playground. Because, of course. But that she put all their clothes in the washer, since she figured I didn’t need more laundry on my hands on packing day. And can the boys stay for lunch while the clothes dry?
I turn on the shower and just stand under the hot water letting the steam wipe away the sweat from the night’s struggle. I let go of my lists and just stand in quiet, reverent thanks. For neighbors who show up.
We leave tonight for South Africa. Our packing is done. We squeezed as much Christmas as we could fit into five suitcases. I packed six princess dresses, because, well when you’re dreaming of Christmas for Africa you sneak things like that into the luggage “just in case.”
We’re going home because the song of the Southern Hemisphere is my love song and my life song and the one I return to -dancing- anytime the craving for family and biltong get too bad.
We arrive back on the day of our beloved Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
I asked each of my kids what they were the most excited about -
Jackson: running on the track you trained on.
You can follow me over here on Instagram to get a daily peek into life in the Southern Hemisphere. And I’ll be blogging and loving introducing you to my family and stories that bloom rich and thick as the Jacaranda trees over there. And if you’re local? We’d LOVE to meet you. Click here to come over and join our South African meetup.
Neighbors, just an equator away.