I’m reading a story (begrudgingly, because I’m not enjoying it but I rarely give up on a book, even the terrible ones) about a mother and her teenage daughter. The mother is hair-tearing over the daughter’s eye-rolls and secretive pot stashes and general state of repugnant teen angst while the daughter is constantly strutting around in jeans with three-inch zippers and doling out blowjobs and everyone’s just miserable all the time.

I don’t much care what happens because I’m so irritated by every character—go ahead, kill off the daughter! Impregnate her, give her an STD, fell the hand-wringing mother with a stroke, leave them all weeping on some blackened beach shore after bombs decimate their city!—but I also find myself grimly reading it in bed at night and after some particularly rebellious scene in which the daughter causes more heartbreak I want to sit up, toss back the covers, and go creeping into my sons’ bedrooms in order to inhale their innocent sleep-sighs. Curl around them with that oddly comforting smell of pee and pajamas, ruffle their soft hair and whisper that they should never, ever grow up and away.

The children no longer exude the pure animal need of babies and oh, I’m so glad to be done with that. They’re still bottomless in what they will take, though. You can pour in energy and attention until you’re teary-eyed with boredom over playing Legos or lining up stuffed animals for an endless squeaky-voiced tea party and they will always want more, more, more.

It isn’t lost on me, though, that this time is drawing to an end. Right now they want nothing more than for me to focus on them, play with them, give them snacks and listen to them. They allow me to hold them, kiss them, fold them into my arms. They crawl over me like puppies, giggling.

The other night the boys were getting ready for bed and they ran shirtless from one end of the house to the other and I realized that Dylan’s baby pudge is long gone. He’s still irresistibly soft to the touch, his skin a pillowy expanse over those funny rounded joints toddlers have, but his belly is lean. His legs are getting longer, his butt is a tiny sideways letter B with no dimples in sight.

And Riley, my god. I stared and stared at him—not, obviously, seeing him unclothed for the first time, but somehow really seeing his small body, how he’s suddenly looking so different. The incipient V-shape of his chest, the tight navel, the actual dents and visible fibers of his muscles, the tender cords of his neck. The only infant-esque curves left are the planes of his face. He’s made of bones and blood and perfection and a thousand paths that shoot off in all directions. I don’t know where he’ll go. I’m terrified by it, sometimes.

There are times when I feel nearly crushed by the gravitational swirl of being at home all day, the children siphoning away my last bits of patience. Those times are real and valid and can’t be dissolved by cross-stitched reminders that I should cherish every moment, feelings can’t be ordered around that easily. But there are other times when I want to spread my arms wide, float on the surface of this fleeting year of us being home and together, just us, before school and friends and sports and music and everything else. While they still want all of me, any of me. Before they grow up and away and maybe I, too, am a helpless mother tearing out her hair and hoping to God that everything works out in the end.

Comments

60 Responses to “Up and away”

  1. Leslie on November 20th, 2010 10:45 pm

    Again – you have hit the nail on the head. I’m going to go kiss my sleeping babies now.

  2. Dianne on November 21st, 2010 12:45 pm

    My heartbreak-Picture those feelings and 18 years of a really close, loving relationship with few problems. Then son meets and marries the first girl he dates and hasn’t spoken a word to us in 6 years. He has cut us out of his life completely, and I DON”T KNOW WHY. I haven’t heard any hint of drugs or legal issues. Apparently the girl just didn’t like us. I’m not blaming her totally because it wouldn’t have happened without his consent. I would have told you that it could have never happened to us-that surely that kind of thing happened only where there was some kind of dysfunction in the family. We’ll never get over the profound sadness. I’d give ANYTHING to go back to where you are now.

  3. Aviva (omyc.wordpress.com) on November 21st, 2010 1:06 pm

    As the mom of a soon-to-be four-year-old, I LOVE this. You’re such a good writer. Your posts are inspiring — amusing, wistful, beautiful. Thank you for the insights.

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