I have a child’s toy tune stuck in my head. Actually, the tune is from Jack’s new bouncy seat, complete with an assortment of objects designed to capture the attention of an infant. He’s not quite sitting without support, still a little wobbly. But in his little seat he reaches out to touch the noisemaker and color in front of him, his first exploration of the universe he’s joined.
I’ve been immersed in the world of the littles for much of the last two weeks. First we went to a family wedding, featuring Riley as the flower girl (sorry, bride and groom, this is Gram speaking!). It was fun to see her participate in the big event, complete with losing her shoe on the way down the aisle and stopping to put it on again. Priceless! She managed to scatter the petals (pedals, heavy on the “d” in Riley-speak). She was charming in her little dress. And both Riley and Jack were good on the flights. Mission accomplished!
I spent the following week in Gram mode, rediscovering the joys of potty training, naps, snacks, feeding times, and a memorable blow-out of a diaper. Funny how effortlessly it comes back! I struggle to remember I am not mommy in these scenes. With my own two children being the same sex and birth order as Riley and Jack, I could close my eyes and skip back twenty-five years to see Alex sitting in Jack’s spot, and Stephanie chattering beside me.
Riley is a joy, in the phase of constant “look at me.” She wants to go everywhere the adults go, have a part in everything going on. She’s both a big girl and emerging toddler, and you never know for sure which side of her you’ll get. But it’s all good. I have endless patience for this phase of life. Give me the sweetness of these ages, the funny things a child says, the joy of snuggling a three-month-old safe and warm in my arms, and I’ll gladly take the not-so-pretty spills, poops, and messes as the price of admission.
Over the weekend I flew to Denver to spend a few days with Alex. Alex, who at twenty-five has already spent five years in the army, has been 13 months deployed abroad in a war zone; has married and divorced, one of the statistics of military life; and is now trying to re-start his life in his old home-town…my Alex, who just a few short years ago was the Jack in my photos. He’s come through, not without scars, but with courage. He’s learned some difficult lessons, made hard choices. And now, seeing him after a year apart, a year of plans for connecting that didn’t work out, and long conversations by phone, I’m satisfied. The mom in me has needed this sight and sound of him, his hug and quick smile.
We talk. I drive to his apartment in a blinding white-out of a spring snow storm, one of Denver’s famous March storms that makes me wonder if I’m foolish for being on the road. But how could I not be? I won’t give up a day of visit to the inconvenience of weather. His apartment is spartan, bachelor in furnishing, and needs a mom shopping trip. He doesn’t ask for anything, but I load up the cart with comforts and extras. It’s so little to offer.
He knows what he has to do: put his head down and forge a path to next. He has to make his life work, and that takes time and discipline, doing it day after day, paying his bills, creating a place for himself. I can’t do it for him, and I can only help in minor ways. Mostly, he has to choose what he wants, and then accomplish it. Hard for me to recognize that he is essentially on his own.
He used to want me to watch him play video games, to see his Lego creations. He was the one that said, “look at me!” Now he’s singing a different song. He has to prove something to himself, and to the world around him. His song has matured.
We were out in the storm last Saturday, hitting Target and Safeway and knocking out my list for him. In a parking lot there was a car with the hood up and a guy standing beside it, leaning over to look at something. Alex pulled up next to him and got out, offering to help. Turned out no help was needed and we drove away. That’s who Alex is. He’s funny, has been known to wear a kilt on occasion, loves music, is helpful to a fault.
My head spins a bit, coming back to Seattle for another few days in the nursery before heading back to Alaska. I’m in a time-warp, caught between the realities of today and the memories of the past. All good, but just the same, poignant, driving home the reality that the days are long but the years are short. I’m so blessed to have had children in my life that brought me joy. They weren’t, and aren’t, perfect. But they were, and are, a joy. And to see it repeat with Riley and Jack..that’s a privilege I treasure. I know this go-round just how fast it really goes, and I know more than ever that life is a risky business with no guarantees to the outcome.
Motherhood is a delicate balancing act. Heart can get in the way of character building and courage-growing. How could I not want to protect? And yet these adults that I still mother a bit have moved well beyond my ability to protect. They fight their own battles and make their own decisions. Sometimes my heart has to race to catch up with them. My head gets it, but the mother in me struggles. I’ve been a slow learner and late bloomer in the realm of letting go. I’ve done a good job of it externally. Does that count?
The song of childhood is sweet but short. I’m learning to listen to the adult voices of my kids, and feel proud that somehow, in spite of the fact that I was making it up as I went along, they turned out well. If I do say so myself, not in my own praise, but more in wonder that it worked…all the things I tried to do, that we tried to do as parents, somehow, we got enough right.