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The first thing I noticed pulling in the driveway after vacation is that one of the apple trees in our yard is bent low like a willow because it has so many apples on it. Two limbs snapped, and I had to pick all the apples on them even though they weren't ripe, to try and salvage about twenty pounds of fruit. We don't, practically speaking, have an orchard, rather a few apple trees, a few pears, a couple of cherry trees, and a peach tree—because I imagined when we moved here I would become an orchardist, and for the first three years, I planted three trees a season. None since.

Six years later, we finally have food, even though the catalogs from which I ordered the trees said it would only take a year or two. Still, I'm surprised by it—surprised that things I did six years ago, and then attended to only sporadically ever since, have actually provided some sort of return. I don't know how many summers I looked out the window and felt discouraged that nothing appeared to be happening on those limbs, and this summer, with the drought, I had fears that the trees might not even make it. Now, here they are with fruit.

It reminds me of the infancy we've just come out of with the kids—those long days at home that always somehow ended in frustration; the Sunday mornings when I thought that no one was getting anything out of Mass; the dinners where I'd try to instill manners in the loud little people and end up yelling, myself. There was such a long time when I thought that motherhood was all about sowing (and poorly at that), but never seeing the fruit.

Tomorrow is the first day of school. Everybody's showered and in bed. The book-bags are packed full of pencils and index cards, and the counter is clean, in anticipation of the morning spread of sandwich-making for their lunches. At the start of summer, I couldn't wait for the kids to go back to school, but now that the time has arrived, it feels too soon.

As they get older, the surprising payoff is not only that they do most things for themselves, or that they now sit through Mass quietly, or that periodically, they show signs of having absorbed good manners—it's that as they grow more into themselves, they're really enjoyable people to be around. 

The older kids learned how to play euchre on vacation; they ran tournaments every night. The younger ones are learning to read and don't seem to mind flipping through board books with the toddler. The road trip was relatively peaceful, even though in the first weekend of our trip we traveled nearly two-thirds of the way around Lake Michigan, and then drove the final leg on the way home. 

I like their jokes, for the most part, and I like the way my daughter said with a perfectly straight face, "I don't have a sense of humor," not depressed about it, or defeated, but baldly self-aware. It had the effect of being terribly funny. 

The fruit has come on rather suddenly, and in abundance, as one by one, my passel of babies grows into self-sufficient individuals, and each of their unique traits adds a new dynamic to the family. They become less the herd of bodies I'm trying to keep alive, and more the people who add pleasant company to my life.

I realize we still have a long way to go. We've barely touched on adolescence, and if I remember anything at all about being a teenager, it's that I wanted to get away—away from my parents, away from my home town, away from people whom I believed did not understand me.

Adolescence can be a breaking point, which I pray does not occur before the fruits are ripe.

I expect to go through more times of uncertainty, where I'm not sure that anything I do as a mother will have far-reaching effects. But for now, for this brief window, I'm thankful that God gave me the strength to bear out the long dry season that seemed so fruitless. I'm thankful that I didn't give up when I felt like it. And I'm thankful for all the miraculous and invisible ways that God has compensated for my shortcomings, for the seeds that He made to germinate, for the rain, and for the daily bread.