As I sit to write this you are floating in the bay in front of Uncle Josh’s house, slipping out across the surface of the black blue sea with your Dad at the oars. You look a bit like a forest elf on a dried leaf headed out on a quest.
Eighteen years ago you and I were working together, toiling to get you into the world.
It was hard on both of us, but we managed the task. The first of many difficult projects you and I would undertake together in the past two decades. No one warned me, when they laid you on my belly, slimy and screaming, still tethered to my body, that the long process of letting you go would be the defining journey of my lifetime. In that instant I became your mother, and for 6,574 days I’ve been doing my best to learn what that means, for both of us.
You, my girl, have been the test pilot. Every single day of my life with you I’ve been a first time mother. Your brothers have reaped the benefit of what you’ve taught me, and perhaps life has gone easier for them. You were the child who taught me patience, and perseverance, the value of ordered days and quiet times. You were the one who reminded me first how to play and who unmuddled my ideas of what it meant to teach and learn together. You have always been patient with me, kind to me when I reached the end of my resources, and willing to try again together when the going got tough in our mutual growth as human beings. You’ve forgiven me when I’ve messed it up badly and you’ve been courageous enough to let me try again. That is a very good gift to give your perpetually first-time-mother.
I am in awe of the recognition that today is the last day of your childhood.
On paper, at any rate, tomorrow morning you become a free agent, a fully functioning adult in the world, with all of the dizzying rights, privileges and perils that accompany that numerical milestone. The reality, of course, is that you’ve been your own chickie for quite some time now, limited only by your ability to procure funding for your projects. You’ve always been a bit ahead of the curve and it’s been fun to watch you burn a broad arc across the sky like the trailer for a firework that we’re all waiting to watch burst into a breathtaking shower of dazzling light. As your mama, I’m enjoying every single second of the time you continue to choose to spend with us, but I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next and I’m waiting with baited breath for the explosion and expansion of your life and our world. Of all the joys of parenthood, this is, perhaps, the best part.
I remember bringing you home from the hospital, tucking you into the Moses basket that had Grammy and Gramps had purchased in Central America for me, the winter before I was born, hanging your little dream fish over your bed and just sitting there watching you sleep.
When you learned to roll over, your favourite place to roll was beneath my feet when I sat down to play the piano. You’d push yourself up against the foot board so you could feel the vibrations and bat at my toes on the pedals. That was the first inkling we had that music might be in you.
When you began reading, at three, it was like magic. You were, of course, a genius. I knew I had nothing to do with it.
Remember the time you brought a frog into the house in your pocket? You were covered from head to toe with mud and I was trying to wrangle the whole slimy lot of you through the shower when I noticed your pocket moving and out leapt the frog. Mayhem and mud ensued as we tried to capture the frog and I lost my mommy cool just a little bit.
Or the time you and Gabriel, wrestling, broke the water pipe in the basement? Thank god it was the cold one.
Do you remember planting asparagus the first spring in our house in New Hampshire? You were six. I dug and you laid in the soft brown roots. We talked about how it would take three years before we could eat any of them, which is why it was so important to plant them the very first spring. You looked at me with big eyes and said, “Three years?? Mama, that’s half my life!”
Or the time I sent you and Ben out with a stale loaf of bread, when we lived in Chicago, to feed the gofer that lived in the yard and instead of breaking it up you stuffed the whole loaf into the mouth of his hole!
Do you remember when you believed that you could only ice skate if you were humming the skater’s waltz like I taught you to?
I remember all of the baby steps of you overcoming your fear of water, learning to swim, learning to row your own boat, learning to sail, then taking the deep breath you needed to brave SCUBA lessons in Belize. I shouldn’t have let Aunt Patti take you in the water that time when you were four and scare you. That was my fault.
I remember the first time you played “Twinkle Twinkle” on your violin for an audience: your Mimi, in a hotel room in Pennsylvania. You were so proud. She clapped with tears streaming down her face and said, “That was so, SO, wonderful… what was it?” And we all laughed.
Three years later, when we made you get up and practice before anyone else was up because it was… erm… a little painful… I remember running down the stairs from my room to meet Aunt Dianne running up the stairs from her room to meet in the middle in our night dresses and shout to each other, “SHE GOT IT!!!” You’d finally managed to play two strings at once, in harmony instead of cat-screech-distress. We were all so relieved.
I remember teaching you to knit and sew and that you didn’t particularly love it at the time. And then, the joy of having you stopped repeatedly in Manhattan by people who wanted to know where you’d purchased your totally unique and drop dead gorgeous jacket and elf hat combo, only to have you disappoint them by admitting that you’d designed and made them yourself.
I love that you’ve always outdone the boys, and not just our boys, but any and all boys.
I’ve taken secret joy in you wrestling them to the ground (although breaking three pair of Jeremiah’s glasses in as many years was unnecessary), vanquishing them in sword fights and climbing higher and faster up trees and mountains. My favourite, by far, was watching you quietly use the tricks Lee taught you to drop Ben’s enormous frame like a hot rock when he was getting rough. I’ll never forget your grandfather’s laugh at that moment. I love that you enjoy your girlness but aren’t limited by it. It’s always been so important to me, as a woman, and as your mother, to celebrate my gender in a way that uses my strength to the fullest. I too take pride in the fact that I can do more than most men can, which makes it extra fun when you find the few that can give you a run for your money. You’re lucky to have a few such young men in your friend set and it’s great fun to watch.
And also, I love your brain.
You are intelligent, thoughtful and precise. I love the calculated way that you approach the world and the logic you apply to your attack on the world. It’s been noticed by many of the adults in your world and it’s the thing that is your greatest leg-up at this stage of your life. You are a thinker in ways that many are not.
I love that you are not afraid to dive in and do something new and hard. You know that your mind is capable of anything and you are willing to do the work with your body to become excellent at something you want to do. Your music is a testimony to this. So is your ability to write, and sing, create art and transform an Asian blue pumpkin by culinary magic into things that taste like home.
I love that you value people, not things. That your instinct is to make, not buy. That time is the gift you most appreciate. That being off the grid doesn’t worry you.
I love that this morning you were collecting tiny crabs inside a great big snail shell as the tide went out. When you brought them up to show me you smiled and said, “I think I’ll let them all go instead of keeping them, then I can have the fun of catching them again.” In that moment is rolled up so much of what I love about you.
I love that your brothers are your buddies.
I remember when Gabe was 11 and particularly difficult to live with (for all of us) you weeping and saying to me, “Mom, it’s just not worth it! Working on this relationship is not worth it! He’s horrible, I hate him and it’s NEVER going to be better.” You weren’t being dramatic. That was an accurate portrayal of the landscape at that moment. Nonetheless, we talked one more time about perseverance, love being about what we give, not what we get, the necessity of long term vision in family relationships, and the gift of siblings to one another. You sighed deeply and tried again.
This week I watched as you intentionally spent time with Ezra and Elisha, both of whom now inhabit that same, difficult, annoying phase that you nearly gave up on Gabe over. You create moments with each of them, as your habit of “brother-sister” dates has evolved. You referenced, to me, the memory of not enjoying Gabe at this stage, and the value of persevering. This is one of the things that makes me most proud of you: your commitment to building family and developing community, from the inside out, even when you’re the only one with her head checked in to the project. We have all reaped the benefit of your efforts, and it’s helped to craft the face of our family. You have given us all a beautiful gift.
It’s most reflected in your friendship with Gabriel. He was, indeed, a pain in the neck for several years, but now, it’s a beautiful thing to watch the two of you adventure together. I love that you hold hands when you walk, that you curl up like puppies to sleep on long bus rides, that you have five thousand inside jokes, that you have plans to live together, apart from us, in Guatemala this winter, that when you’re apart you send, “I miss you,” notes to each other and that you are partners in every sort of crime. Your Dad and I worked really hard when you guys were little to brainwash you into believing that you were best friends and to cultivate the kind of family that would breed friendship instead of rivalry. For a while there, in the middle years, it seemed like those efforts might have been in vain, but now, on the other side, it is, perhaps, our greatest success as your parents. Of course we didn’t do it, you did, together.
I lay in the hammock this morning with your littlest cousin, Jack,
and provided pinecones for him to throw as hard as he could out of the netting and onto the rocky beach. He’d toss one, laugh, and then stick out his fat little fist for another. I’d hand it to him, he’d pitch it. Over and over, punctuated with me leaning way out of the swing to pick them all back up and begin the game again. It seems like yesterday that the baby was you and we were just beginning the long path of repetitive motion that is parenthood and human transformation. How many sorts of pinecones have I handed you over the years, first to chew on, then to throw, later to create art with, still later to plant and grow into new trees as your understanding of the world has grown and changed?
I blinked and you are grown. People did warn me about that. Mostly they annoyed me when they did, because inevitably it was on one of those toddler days that seems like it is NEVER going to end and in which I was wondering what in the heck I had been thinking when procreation seemed like a good idea. Old women would say, “Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it!” I did blink, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed it. I feel like we’ve made the very most of it, you and I. From your first tentative bites of my first attempts at making baby food, to watching you wobble off on your little pink bicycle, to watching you ride one across a continent under your own steam, to long afternoons of your music on multiple instruments, which has become the soundtrack of our lives. You and I braved the deep water of your childhood and my first attempts at motherhood, we’ve emerged good friends and adventure buddies. It was one of my great joys (and also a little surreal) to hug you goodbye in Paris and say, “Try to be back by the fifth of July, the seventh at the latest,” and watch you shoulder your pack and turn your back, knowing that I need not worry, even a little bit.
I hope you know, as you begin the next third of your journey with sunrise tomorrow, that we are still as tethered as we were before they cut the cord that connected my body to yours.
You don’t belong to me, but then, you never did. You took your very first breath as an independent soul and your path is your own. You’ve always been a traveler just passing through our lives and off into a future that I’m not likely to see. It will continue to be my great joy to watch you toss pinecones, climb trees, capture crabs on rocky beaches and the grown up equivalents of your free childhood adventures. I have complete confidence in your ability to craft a life for yourself, your family and the communities you choose that is strong and beautiful, productive and satisfying. You have been my life’s work, to this point, and the best gift I know how to give the world. Thanks giving me the gift of motherhood.