What I Do Remember

I can’t remember every detail of every child…every first word spoken…every first step…every favorite food…

They ask. They want to know. They want to know the little details of their lives…the little things they did when they were too young to remember. But I don’t remember, either.

I don’t remember Henry’s first word. Partly because we were so confused about his speech. It would seem to develop, and then it would disappear, and we wondered if it was ever really there at all.

I don’t remember Ella’s first word either. Kate said “Coco.” William said “quack quack.”

I don’t remember anyone’s first steps except Ella’s. Mostly I remember how all five of us were watching her; how all of us were together in one little corner of our house.

I remember that Kate would eat anything. Except broccoli. I don’t remember what anyone else liked. I do remember that William would throw his plate when he was done eating.

It bothers me. It bothers me that some of those memories are missing. I have them written down somewhere, I’m sure. In a baby book or on a slip of paper or an old calendar somewhere. But I can’t remember them. I can’t call to mind what it was they were wearing, or where we were or how they sounded.

But I do remember other things.

I remember the first time Henry said “horse” and the first time he heard a bird sing.

I remember how quiet and thoughtful Kate was, always, and how she sucked her thumb when she was uncertain. I remember how the smell of her was intoxicating.

I remember the first time William smiled after his stroke, and how many eggs he ate when they finally cleared him for food.

I remember how Henry and I would curl up together in his toddler bed at night…how he would stretch out and how round his belly was. I remember his profile…that cute button nose and his soft cheeks. And how there was always music playing even though he couldn’t hear it…I refused to stop playing his music. I remember how he would twirl his hair around his finger.

I remember rocking Kate at night, in her tiny little room in our old house. Looking out across the square at the Christmas lights and singing Silent Night to her while she slept. How warm and perfect she felt cradled in my arms.

I remember what William used to say to us, every single night before bed. I love you night-night sit in the chair up here the one by the door I love you night night in one long, run-on sentence.

I remember the day we told the kids about Ella, and how we were going to have a new baby in the house, and how they all screamed and jumped around and how I felt so overwhelmed with joy that I cried. I remember how that baby girl used to strip down to her undies every single day and fall asleep on the couch. And how her favorite word was “no” for a little longer than I appreciated.

I used to dream about what our children would be like…what our life would be like. My dreams were like a fantasy — there was never as much heartache in my dreams.

Nor was there near as much beauty, nor splendor in my dreams, as there is now in my memories.

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What I Do Remember

The Ending of Summer

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
–Henry James

Oh Henry, you slay me.  I do love summer, and we have but a month of it left.  I’m not quite sure where the time all went…but my heart is a bit heavy over the fact that summer’s end is near.

Kate will be in high school this fall.  Maybe that’s part of the sorrow in it, I don’t know. On the surface, the whole high school thing doesn’t bother me.  But just below the surface, where the beating of my heart is hidden from view but clearly palpable, I guess I know that my time with her here is fading.  I have four short years left, and one day soon I will turn around and realize it is all over.  All those little things about her will be gone — confined to her bedroom or taken away with her completely; I will look around and there will be nothing but her photographs to remind me.

No more bottles of nail polish scattered around.  No more dirty old bag full of horse hair and muddy riding boots in the kitchen.  No more viola in the hallway…and no music behind her bedroom door.  No more love notes, or doodles or sketches to surprise me. I won’t be able to hear her laugh or watch her silly new dance moves or see her smile.  I won’t be able to look over at her and see her sitting there, long legs unfolded gracefully before her as she reads. And we won’t talk at bedtime anymore, the way we do now.

Most nights, I imagine, I will go to sleep wondering if her day was a good one, or if some creep has broken her precious heart. I will wonder if she’s eating healthy and if she got her juice in the morning (and I will worry for her roommate if not…). And I will wonder if she is tucked in each night…is she safe and is she happy and is she really doing alright? I will just have to trust that she is, and that if not, she will tell me.

I’m not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how a mother trusts and lets her child go…

I do think this is where the sorrow comes from. The ending of another summer is really just an inching closer to the day my heart breaks a little…the day it goes walking off on its own.

Kate 14 NST

The Ending of Summer

This Place Right Here

The other night, Poppy was out there barking again.  Ever since the bear came sauntering through the neighborhood I’ve been nervous about at what exactly it is she’s barking. Usually it’s the groundhog eating my strawberries. And daisies. And Echinacea. And Parsley. And Black-Eyed Susans. The funny thing is, Poppy cornered that poor little groundhog against the fence the other day and didn’t know what to do next.

Anyway…  I went out to see what all the noise was about. Boy are the spiders active at night. I looked at the windows that really need cleaning. And the tree that just died this spring and needs to be brought down. Three of them, actually, need to be brought down. But in order to do that, our chainsaw needs to be fixed. And we still need to fix the water pipe that leads to the front hose. Honestly, there are so many projects around here…cracked tiles in the bathroom, and windows with popped seals and water stains on ceilings that could really use repainting.

I love this house in spite of all of it.

And also in spite of the fact that right now this house is a complete mess.

The matching sock I couldn’t find last night is on the coffee table (I don’t know why or how it got there). There are empty popcorn bowls and water bottles and three Rubik’s Cubes scattered around. The old man stuffed a box of basketball jerseys for summer league under the chair in the family room. The popcorn pot still sits on the stove from last night. There are legos and bottles of nailpolish on the island.  And Jellycat.  And four pool towels hanging on chairs and the stair posts.

The dishwasher is full of clean dishes that need to be put away.  The counters are full of clean pots and cutting boards and serving bowls. The sink is full of dirty dishes that didn’t fit in the dishwasher.

The mess will be cleaned up shortly.

And tomorrow morning I will probably be looking at a very similar scene.

In our first house everything was perfectly placed, everything clean and neat. No clutter. I looked around one day and realized what was wrong with that house. It looked sterile…not at all like a home. That was before the babies came. Sterile is no longer a word I would use to describe our environment.

I look around now, at this home we live in, and this is what a home feels like to me. Some days I really, really cannot stand the remains of the day, the messes all over the place, to be sure. But the things I see now — the popcorn bowls and pool towels, the jerseys and toys and nail polish and dishes — these are the things that remain after a day well spent.

Someone asked me the other night, half in jest, if we would be moving out to P’ville soon the way so many of our friends have.

No.

Nothing against P’ville, but I like this place right here.

flowers

This Place Right Here

On Boys, Again

Adolescent boys can be, well, juvenile.  Boys will act without thinking. Boys will be rough with each other. Boys will be loud with each other. Boys will insult each other. Maybe they laugh too often or too loud, or talk way too often about farts or run too fast in the hall, or maybe they wrestle with each other when they probably shouldn’t be wrestling.

These same boys have a side to them that doesn’t show to most people.  It’s the quiet side.  The thoughtful side. The sweet, tender side.  It’s the side that is fearful, and curious, and excitable and loving. It’s the side that still wants your face to be the last thing he sees at night, and still embraces you first thing in the morning.  It’s the side that wants you there, that needs your approval, and craves your love.

They are still little boys.

Half of them haven’t hit puberty yet. Their little brains haven’t come close to being mature. According to some scientific research, they aren’t even close to half way there.

And yet we expect them to sit still for seven hours in school, to be quiet all the time, to be focused, to be serious, constantly. Why are we preparing kids for college in 6th grade? Why are we trying to train them into elite athletes? It bothers me that we feel like every minute of their day should be scripted, scheduled, planned out.

It bothers me that we try to catch them misbehaving, almost as though we are trying our best to catch them doing something wrong. It bothers me immensely that we, as adults, are using cameras and surveillance to do so. And it bothers me that we are punishing them for doing something that is simply characteristic behavior of little boys. Typical, smart, generally well-behaved boys. Boys that do well in school, are well-liked by their peers and come from good families. Boys that are simply having fun with each other…goofing off and laughing and yes, rough-housing with each other the way boys do. The way boys *should* do.

At what point do we stop micro-managing them?  At what point do we give them a chance to relax a little?  And when do we let them just be what they were meant to be…to learn on their own…to make mistakes and learn from them without interference from us? When are they allowed to be boys?

Maybe the question is when will we allow them to be boys?  When will we begin treating our children like children again?  When will we remember what it was like to be 12 or 13 years old, and feel like every time you turn around you are doing something wrong again?

For more of my thoughts on boys, read here.

On Boys, Again

Forgetting

I was sitting there, taking a bite of my banana and I thought of him and how he says bananas make his mouth itchy and stinging lately.  I was driving.  And right then I sobbed, silently and so unexpectedly…so abruptly I didn’t have time to even think before I gasped.  Because right at that moment I remembered the first time I held him. The first moment I kissed his tiny, precious face.  The first moment I smelled his new baby skin.  That giant ache you get in your throat when you do the ugly cry…it nearly knocked me off my feet that morning.

The other night at dinner we were talking about the things I liked to eat when I was pregnant with each of them.  I ate strawberries and chef boyardee when I was pregnant with Kate…black licorice for Henry, and lots of french fries and ice cream when I was pregnant with Ella.

What about me he says.

I don’t remember.

I’m the forgotten child he says.

Never.  Never ever.  Your cells became knit with mine long before you were born.

But there is the fear of forgetting…forgetting something precious you said…how your shiny hair bounced up and down in the back when you walked, or how your belly used to stick out past your ribs.  I fear forgetting that your first word was “quack,” or how you used to like to wear a tie and dress pants to preschool, or that your favorite song was the Little Drummer Boy, which you called Rum Pa Pum.

And now…I don’t want to forget you now…how soft and fuzzy your hair feels.  How you say “wow, Mom” when you disapprove of something I’ve said.  How soft your embrace is every morning. And that whistling thing you do all the time now. (Why?)

Tiny little memories as countless as the stars in the sky, Will. You will never be forgotten.

 

 

Forgetting

It Won’t Last Forever

This morning I sat by the window in the big yellow chair in my bedroom as Ella bounced up the steps.  I told her to get dressed, so she skipped to her room and then she skipped back to me to tell me she likes the outfit I chose for her — lots of maroon and orange because today is gameday you know.  So I told her to skip on back and please get dressed.  So she did.  She talked the entire time.  This girl has an enormous amount of words per day allotted to her.

When she was done getting dressed she bounced into my room again, and I told her to brush her hair.  So she gets her hairbrush and stands in her doorway where I can see her, and she sings and she twirls her brush around.  There is no brushing of the hair going on whatsoever.  And I just look at her.

She called me her hero at school.  When her teacher told me that, I smiled, and I looked back over my shoulder at her sitting in her little chair at her little desk quietly working on her assignment.  And I felt ashamed.  I am so much less than a hero.

This morning at 4:36 am Ella had a really really scary dream.  She has a really really scary dream every night.  She comes and wakes me, every night, and usually I give her a hug and tell her it was just a bad dream, and tell her to think about Poppy or collecting seashells or picking flowers or something as I tuck her back in, stroke her hair and kiss her forehead.  But last night I said something dumb like “Oh Ella, you have a really really scary dream every night” and tucked her back in with not much more than a quick hug.  And then as I climbed back into my own bed I remembered the whole hero thing and felt pretty crumby because that wasn’t very heroic — how I just acted.  So I went back in and hugged her and asked her if she was warm enough and told her I loved her.

Someday she’ll realize I’m not a hero at all…

So this morning I sat there watching her twirl her hairbrush for a moment.  “She is so easily distracted” I thought, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her…bouncing and singing and twirling.  And that snaggle tooth of hers and her hello kitty glasses that always slip down on her tiny freckled nose…my God, she is precious. Honestly, maybe I’m beginning to like that distracted part of her.  It won’t last forever…

But right now?  Right now she has the ability to completely dismiss from her mind anything at any given time (homework, chores, hair-brushing) and instead tell me a joke or sing me a song, or spin and twirl around the kitchen, or show me how fast she can run, or how loose her tooth is. When will she lose that? When will she become organized by lists and check boxes and responsibilities?

My guess is that it’s about the same time that she chooses a new hero.

When that time comes, I will have wasted all of these years, these moments, and I will miss this stuff that — to be very honest here — kind of drives me crazy right now.  And the worst part is that I will have been, like a fool, wishing for it all along.

One day I will watch her as she walks.  She won’t bounce or spin or skip or twirl, and I’ll try to remember the last time I saw her spin, or skip, or anything other than just plain old walk.  And I’ll know then that it’s too late.  It has already happened.

Ella Morven Park NST

It Won’t Last Forever

Nothing Else Matters

And so it is with life that we are, now and then, presented with a choice.  I can say that neither choice will have a completely comfortable outcome, for one reason or another.  But surely, there is a right choice here…surely there is a better choice.

Whatever choice I make, it will be because of them.

Because of her…

Kate Beach Portrait 2013 NST

Because of him…

William at the Barn NST

Because of him…

Henry Beach Portrait 2013 NST

And because of her…

Ella on the beach 2013 NST

Without them…without David…without my little furry beast…nothing matters.  

Nothing else matters.

Nothing Else Matters