I seem to keep writing about a child of mine, so now it's Primo's turn...
I keep trying to make myself 34, but I’m still 33. 3 chunks of 11 ain’t bad, but I’m rushing to 34 because that’s 17 two times. I will look back at a life lived in two distinct halves: one as a child in Texas and one as an “adult” in Seattle. (The trick of adulthood is that it feels like a place where one never really arrives. You look up at 4 kids, a marriage, a mortgage, a dog and think, “These seem like things an adult would have,” yet you feel like there is an essential maturity still missing.)
The children in my merry little band are on their first halves, and the things that happen in the first half matter so much. Lauren Groff described this so beautifully in Fates and Furies: “The more life you had, the more the base expanded, so that the wounds and treasons that were nearly imperceptible when they happened stretched like tiny dots on a balloon slowly blown up. A speck on the slender child grows into a gross deformity in the adult, inescapable, ragged at the edges.”
Terrifyingly, I might be the one poking those tiny holes in their balloons. Maybe, though, (to introduce yet another metaphor) I’m actually more like a chef or baker adding the essential bits of this and that which, when risen and baked, will ensure that the final product is beautiful and delicious. Problem for me is: with humans there is no do-over, no chucking the bad batch. I don’t anticipate growing a bad batch; they all seem pretty wonderful to me. But, sometimes I wake up mid panic attack in the night, and I kind of know that it’s because I’m afraid for my children. I quickly think of something else because it’s too scary a cliff to look over for long. By the morning, I wake to a kid or two softly padding in to snuggle in my bed with me, and the terror becomes a bad dream that I can easily blow away after inhaling the smell of their little scalps.
My greatest fear is that they will someday hate me. What if they resent me for trying to indoctrinate them with everything I hold true and dear? Maybe they are only seeing my ragged edges and not the pearl of my love for them in the center of my heart growing and growing over time. My love is the treasure I hope they inherit, but I cannot avoid the truth that we get our parents patterns and behaviors as well. And mine are not all good.
My firstborn and I had a rough morning. (What’s new?) A few hours later, I wrote him a letter. It’s for him, so I will only tell you a little bit of it: I admitted that he and I are growing up together. All his siblings have a “seasoned” parent, but not him. Every moment of his life is a first for us all. Sure, I was 8 once (26 years ago), but I have never parented an 8 year old. I speak truth to him, but I might not always do it the right way. Sometimes I make things worse for him, and that kills me. He and I have so much in common; insecurity sends us both careening down the same old road; we lash out and do everything we can to convince ourselves of anything that might let us maintain some semblance of autonomy. If I had a nickel for every time my husband says, “You are just like him…”
I worry my son will grow up and look back from his second half and think, “Shame on her. She was the adult.” “Oh! But, baby… you don’t understand how long the learning phases last! I did my best! I tried to show you my love. I couldn’t always see the mistakes I was making!” If it goes that way, God will still be God. Deep down, though, I know he has better hopes than that end for our relationship, and so do I.
A couple years ago, I bought the colorful Roald Dahl box set from Costco. He is one of my favorite authors, and I love watching the kids enjoy him too as Brendan reads to us all. Ezra is old enough to devour them on his own. In an effort to read every book in the set, Ez read Boy, a beautiful, simple memoir of Roald Dahl’s childhood and one of my favorite books. I enjoyed discussing it book-club-style with Ezra. About a week later, Ezra told me he was starting Going Solo, another memoir. I’d never read it. Within a couple of days, Ez thundered up the stairs (the only way he knows how to traverse a staircase) and shouted, “I finished Going Solo! At the end it says, ‘and I came out into the arms of my waiting mother.’ He was in a war for a long time and didn’t see his family, but he gets home in the end.” That was all I needed to snatch that book from his hands and get reading. If my 8 year old son was feeling excited about Roald Dahl loving his mama, then that boded well for me! We chatted every time I finished a chapter. His understanding and retention really impress me. I never thought descriptions of World War II dogfights could hold my attention so well, but that’s Roald Dahl. He makes me feel what he felt by gently, totally allowing me to come into his mind. What a blessing when extraordinary things happen to extraordinary storytellers. When I finished the book, my eyes filled with tears feeling the magnetic longing Roald and his mother had for one another:
I caught sight of my mother when the bus was still a hundred yards away. She was standing patiently outside the gate of the cottage waiting for the bus to come along, and for all I knew she had been standing there when the earlier bus had gone by an hour or two before. But what is one hour or even three hours when you have been waiting three years? [...] I flew down the steps of the bus straight into the arms of the waiting mother.
I found Ezra the minute I finished the last line. “I read it all, Ez! I read the part with the mom, and I cried. It’s so sweet.”
“Yeah. Remember how he said, ‘what’s three hours when you waited three years?’”
“Yeah. I could imagine how it felt.”
And then I enjoyed one of the top 5 most meaningful hugs of my whole life. I hope he remembers it.
The truth is that there are no real dividing markers in our lives that cut all the way across. Certainly there are moments that change us, but each life is lived by one whole person (not two halves); we just get bigger, more layered.