I am the trunk of a tree, growing you slowly like a spring leaf. Wondering how far the branch will take you from me, your base. This is what motherhood feels like most days, the knowledge that you are completely mine for such a finite amount of time, and I am watching it click down to zero.
In Pittsburgh, Fall has finally been pushed over the threshold, however unwillingly. Today was blustery, if not cold. Everything went wrong from go, a car that needed repairs, errands that clearly reproduced and doubled on my list, but at pick up time from school the kids asked to go to the playground and I said ‘Yes’, because that is motherhood also, right? Making your mouth say the word yes when sometimes (okay a lot of the time) you would rather shout No.
I stood apart, considering them, and thought that the saying about parenthood being about ‘watching your heart walk around outside of your body’, it’s not accurate, not fully. It is not just allowing your heart to walk outside of your body, it is ripping open your chest, cracking your sternum, and then tying your heart to a wolf. The wolf will trip over it, gnaw on it, bash it into trees, drag it through mud, it will treat your heart with no more care than anything else it takes for granted. You will be thankful for this. Things we take for granted are things we don’t question going away.
At some point, as adults, they might realize the carelessness with which they treated something so essential to someone so crucial to them. They may find themselves wanting to say, I am sorry for taking you for granted. I have been like a feral animal with your heart, dragging it along without caring for it. I need you. I need you more than I have ever needed anything in my life. But that day is not today. Today what they want to say is a torrent of half-stories, tidbits and tattling, exclamations and angry accusations. Today what they want to say is that I need to stand at the playground guarding them against anything untoward, no matter how much I would prefer a nap.
You tell me that ‘you miss me while you are sleeping’ and I could weep for the truth in it. How long will you miss me while you sleep? I tell you (and your brother and your sister) every night to ‘Sleep Sweet’ and you yell it back to me from the safety of your crib. Your words are the fortification I need before bed, because most nights I miss you while I sleep also.
In the morning you smell like sleep and dreams and warmth. I gather you up when you tumble towards me from your blanket cocoon and I carry you to where we make a nest together and discuss the day. Today we will make coffee and I will give you ‘white coffee’ which is mostly French vanilla creamers and a little whipped cream, but you love it. We will make the beds together and get the laundry and the dishwasher running. Doing these tasks with you gives my life balance. When I sit down later, on the couch without the cup holders (you like this couch best because you sit right up against me, no regard for personal space) you will ask ‘Mommy, you play with me?’ and hold up one of your action figures. Normally I have to be the bad guy who loses, but today you let me be Spiderman and you are Thor. Thor and Spiderman are fighting Venom and The Green Goblin and you tell me that I am your team. I love being your team, however brief.
You still doggedly argue that it is called a steiling and not a ceiling and your argument is solid. Because it steals the sky from your eyes. You once told me, and that is the best description I can make about you. Inside your head I imagine fields of magical creatures and plot lines, I see you as the benevolent dictator to your world, and I watch you daydreaming it to life, when you aren’t aware of my audience. You are creativity unleashed, the wild abandon of reckless ingenuity, and it is my pleasure to watch it crash together into your unstoppable force.
“Did you know” you tell everyone who will listen “that my mommy wanted blonde hair and blue eyes and she got me, and I have blonde hair and mostly green but kind of blue eyes?” and the complete satisfaction in your little voice leaves no room for response, because you are off on a completely different story about another incredible thing that tops the last incredible thing so thoroughly as to erase it from existence. So it goes, until sleep overtakes you (please G-d, let it be an early bedtime some nights).
My biggest kid, and fittingly, everything you feel is big. It seems impossible that although you nearly never stop moving, you are also an insatiable observer, able to connect with anyone you meet. You and I, we did some growing up together.
I have watched you struggle and overcome, with courage, grace and with perseverance a grown adult would be proud of. It has been difficult to not shield you from injustice, to watch you become aware of the world in a way that growing up peels back to ugly layers. I have begun to see skinned knees turned to bruised feelings, and it is hard to not try to shut the door on the future and keep you here a while longer, in this space where only safe people exist.
On my children:
I love them more than I will ever love anything. To quantify that would be impossible. There is barely the flicker of remembered life before them, simply the stasis period of waiting for them.
They are infuriating and still I miss them while they sleep. I miss them while they are at play dates and sports and school but I can’t wait for them to get tired and go to bed when they are here. I find them beautiful, and hilarious and wonderful. When I think that I was their foundation, growing them from this tiny sac of seeds and molecules into a thing with eyebrows and fingernails and the capacity to be who they will become, it is enough to take me down with the awesomeness of it all.
I am most proud of who they are. For the things I can take no credit for forming, but only for fostering. They are kind kids, watchers and protectors and warriors and wizards. They are all of the best things and when I see them stumble, my breath catches with the urge to fix it. It is always amazing how they attempt to dust themselves off first, if sometimes still unsuccessfully. I am flattened by the immense responsibility of them looking to me to show them the right way of things when so often I feel that I have no idea what the right way is. Too often, life feels very much like the labyrinth at Crete, a minotaur lurking in the shadows, but my children are like bright flashes of light illuminating the way things could be, if only I urge kindness to the forefront.