September 11, 2015 in Inspiration
Today we are giving a party.
You’re all invited. It’s from four to whenever, open door policy, as usual. There will be swimming, maybe some boating, a campfire, lots of laughter, a hot grill, and the the last day of summer; alongside the last day of a childhood.
When Gabe and Hannah were tiny, there were afternoons that stretched for days.
I really did want to shake those well meaning people who said, “Don’t blink, honey, or you’ll miss it,” until their teeth rattled. If not overwhelmed, I was, to quote my Uncle Dick, “Damned near ‘whelmed,” for the first decade of parenthood. Four pregnancies in eight years, four major moves, and the decision not to put them on the big yellow bus will do that to a mama.
I remember one afternoon…
…when Daddy was on the other side of the continent, natch, coming down the stairs and walking into a wall of gasoline vapors. The panic that ensued while I tracked down the source is still palpable. There he was: a black eyed boy in a skunk skin hat and a yellow canvas pocket vest, standing next to a red gas can with that unmistakeable little boy look, of, “Now how am I going to hide this?” painted across his eyebrows. He’d dumped the mower gas onto our (very porous, bordering on rotten) wooden deck, “Just to see what would happen.”
Then, there was the day that Gabe and Hannah very nearly killed our good friend Preston. He was tied to our roof with climbing gear in the midst of tearing off the front half of the house in a major rebuild when he nearly fell to is death in response to my hysterical screaming. (In case you’ve never met me… I don’t do hysterical screaming. Ever.)
The little weasels had somehow managed to break a water pipe in half in the basement, whilst westling around like black bear cubs. They were, themselves, hysterically screaming as they were showered with water and the basement slowly filled. My screaming was in the minute that it took me to realize that it was a well water pipe, and not the scalding hot one coming off of the boiler. I thought my babies might be burning. They were not.
Preston and Ben held me while I cried out the emotional let down, then protected my children from my wrath, then abandoned the roof in favor of mucking out the basement for me. Because, of course, The Man was on the wrong side of the continent. Again.
Or the day when I heard ominous clinking coming from the bathroom of a house we were renting and went in to find Gabe standing with two plastic cups trying to catch the streams of water that were fire hosing out of the top of the open toilet tank. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???” I shouted at him. “JUST NUFING!” he shouted back.
Two days later that entire toilet had to be removed because my mad little scientist had tested what would happen if one flushed two matchbox cars simultaneously.
Spoiler alert: They get stuck in the bend. The plumber took the toilet to his truck, cracked the porcelain with a pipe wrench and returned with two wet, nasty little trucks in hand. “Would you like these back, Ma’am.”
I remember standing there looking at him thinking, “No, no, I would not. But I’ll sell you this kid, cheap.”
There was the afternoon that the three of them came in so profoundly muddy that words escape me.
I ushered them straight to the shower in the basement bathroom and whilst wrestling two wet, slippery, uncooperative, soap phobic little boys beneath the stream of warm water I noticed my daughter’s pants pocket moving in the instant before a frog escaped. You can imagine the mayhem: mud, soap, water, dirty boots, naked boys, hopping frog, dirty pig tails dripping muddy water, leaping, shouting, wrangling. We never caught the frog, poor thing.
I remember laying in the bathtub after dinner most nights.
(This was not a luxury, this was a necessity. My husband sent me there, sometimes sternly, in hopes that the hour of recharge time would give me the strength not to kill my children while he was away. And he was away a lot.) Sometimes I’d put my head under water so that I could not hear the sounds of their sweet, Norman Rockwell childhood, playing out in the next room. There was wine. Sometimes there were tears. I ignored the fingers jammed under the crack beneath the door. I ignored the sounds of the bedtime routine.
I did not approve of my husband’s approach to bedtime.
I was more of a “read fifty stories, kiss foreheads, exit the room quietly” kind of bedtime mama. He favored the drill sergeant approach.
He would shout at the children boot camp style as they cleared the table (I bought dishes I didn’t like because I knew they’d just break them all in learning to wash up). Then he’d run boys through teeth brushing and toy clean up with a loud, “Go, go, go!” as they scurried to keep ahead of him. Giggling in a very un-soldier-like way.
Their reward, once footie pajamas were on and my living room had been returned to a calm, adult space (never something Daddy negotiated on) was to be tickled until I was sure they’d pass out from laughter and bounced on their beds until I was sure they’d throw up. “Higher, Daddy, HIGHER!” They’d gasp between fits of laughter.
He’d bounce them as hard as he could, the goal being to get as much air between them and the mattress as possible. Then, with no warning, he’d grab one of the top bunk boys and toss them… literally, he threw our small children… like sacks of flour into their bunks. The bottom bunk boy got rolled like a bowling ball towards his pillow. Stuffed animals were similarly lobbed at the appropriate owner, he’d slam the light switch and sternly command, “Now, GO TO SLEEP!” Miraculously, they did.
Only then was it safe to emerge from the bath.
I swear to you that I have not blinked.
Not once. I do not feel as if I’ve missed it. Even though there are parts I’d profoundly like to have missed, to be honest. And yet…
The day after tomorrow we’ll be down to two kids.
I don’t know how to do two kids. I’ve only had two kids for a window of six months. Our nephew Ben made number three before Gabe learned to crawl, and it’s been a party ever since.
One thing’s been clear, since our children were tiny: they are not the sort of humans who are going to hang about on our couch or make it convenient for us to visit when they grow up. Treks to their “forts” in the forest often took half an hour one way and involved descriptions like, “Don’t worry Mom, we’re almost there.” I wasn’t worried. I too am a wilding.
I’m also aware that most kids, on their first major launch towards university, bounce back. Summers, holidays, between jobs and to do laundry. I’m equally aware that I did not, and these first two kids are an awful lot like me.
I moved out of the country with the same breath I used to blow out the candles on my eighteenth birthday cake and I never came back. Three weeks has been the longest I’ve spent in my parents’ house since that day. With that in mind, I’ve prepared for this day with an air of finality, and if I luck into a few more long visits as they come and go, then I’ll consider that the whipped cream and a cherry.
Having made it my business to study the launch process in the last few years, I’ve noticed that there tend to be two types of motherly responses.
- One is to cry your eyes out, and pine for what’s passed.
- The other is to sigh with relief, pour a drink and hope the door doesn’t hit them in the backside on the way out.
Having met some difficult teens, I can understand how a mama would feel that way. I’m aiming for somewhere in the middle, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that there is a certain palpable relief in getting two out the door and onto productive paths.
We’re celebrating Gabe today, and Hannah too, although she’s already knee deep in her own life. We’re congratulating him on a job well done in his schooling, in working hard and dreaming big to take off and do something few kids his age get to do. We’re celebrating his maturity, his manliness, his capability in the real world, his work ethic, and the sunrise of potential that is a 17 year old with the mirage of his life on the horizon.
But in the background, somewhere, I’m celebrating making it through those long afternoons. I’m celebrating not wringing his neck when I was sorely tempted to, getting him through the emotional dramas of the early teen years, and managing to produce a pretty decent young man out of the loud noise covered in dirt that tore my house apart like the Tasmanian Devil for the first decade of his life.
I did that. Me.
It’s one of the things I am proud of having accomplished.
The day after tomorrow I put my life’s work on a plane.
He will never come back.
Of course he’ll be back, in December for Christmas, at least. But, the boy I spent laughing all over Kingston with yesterday, on one last day of running errands together, will be gone forever once he boards that plane.
Like a snake, he’s been scratching at his skin, the old one, that’s fitting a bit too tightly, as he sloughs off boyhood.
He’s worn it very thin this summer, working long hours learning to build boats with Tom. I can see it bulging at the seams as he buys hundreds of dollars in man’s equipment for ocean crossings. In the way he’s slamming foul weather gear, deck boots, wet suits, dive equipment and more onto store counters and whipping out his card to pay for it without even glancing sideways to see if Mom’s going to get it, or he is.
He’s manning up.
I hear the echo of his father’s voice to a row of unruly, scraggly, little boys who used to try hard to queue up like soldiers for the nightly drill sergeant routine as The Man would admonish:
“Boys! Man up! Being a man means taking responsibility for yourself first, and then for as many others as you can within your circle! No one made this mess but you! Your mother does not want to step on lego after her bath! CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS! GO! GO! GO!”
And they would go, scrambling to meet with approval from the inspector five minutes later.
I see the echo of those words in a young man who is also his father’s life work.
People keep asking me how I’m doing.
I haven’t cried yet, over either of them.
I can’t find anything to cry about.
- We’ve done our best.
- Their childhood has been pretty epic, if I do say so myself.
- There are no regret,s or wishes, left in our bucket list.
- I haven’t done this motherhood thing right, but I have done my best, and that’s all I’ve got.
- They’re both on to their own dreams, big ones, and they know how to spin dreams into whatever reality they choose.
What more could I have hoped for on launch day?
Gabe and I were talking in the boat lineup yesterday, as we missed the ferry (again)
“You know Gabe, if there is one thing I hope you got from your childhood, it’s this: Do it your way. Who cares how everyone else is doing it. Do what you want and do it your way.”
He chuckled, “Yeah Mom, I got it.”
My work here is done.