as if a dream…
the last flicker of red tail light just faded from the alley. i’d pressed my cheek as close to the glass as i could press — short of stepping out into the near frozen morning — straining to see the last dab of red glow fading away.
and, like that, poof, he’s gone.
my little christmas dream, my wish come true, has come to its hollow end. the boy i love is headed back to the college on the faraway hill, where, alone in his dorm room, the light through the window will burn. the green slope between red-brick dorms, one after another all in a square, it will be empty, will echo with the whisper of the few faint footsteps. the kid i love is among the one or two in the college who’ve been granted permission to type straight through the new year.
so christmas here was cut short, cut short by a very long thesis due in two short weeks — or, as i count it, 17 days, six hours and 19 minutes.
christmas this year was condensed. distilled to its short sweet essence.
which, in many ways, made it all the more delectable, all of it tumbled one delicious moment atop another. until last night, as i was clearing the christmas feast dishes, and the lurch in my belly made itself known. he’s leaving again, i remembered. before the dark of the dawn fades, he will be gone, i remembered.
so this morning, i did what mothers too often do: i watched the light fade away, into the too-far distance.
we wait, some sweet homecoming moments, for the light to come in through the distance. and then, on the other end of the dizzying spell of squeezing a hand that’s grown far bigger than ours, and bending low for a kiss to the brow of the sleeping man who’s back in his old twin bed, on the other end of shoulder pressed against shoulder at the cookstove, or plopping on the edge of each other’s bed for one or two thoughts shared in the dark, there comes the hour when the light pulls away, into the darkness again.
and so, in the space in between, we immerse ourselves deep in the holiest way to live: at full and piercing attention. stripping away the parts of ourselves that might otherwise get in our way — the part of ourself that, say, might prefer to do things a particular way; the part of ourself that normally flinches when butter and oil are splattered all over the cookstove (and the wall and the floor), but not this hour when it’s the college kid plying his craft of brussels sprouts bathed in a sizzling skillet of garlic and fat upon fat; the part of ourself that hadn’t planned on going to church on the far end of a one-hour traffic jam, but once we got there, well, i found myself awash in tears at the joy spread across the kid’s face as he remembered the church where he’d once made his first holy communion.
so it goes, when there’s only so much time — and you’re graced with the knowledge that, soon as it begins, it’s tumbling toward the close. you shrug off all the little things that don’t matter. you set your divining rod onto high alert. and you whirl through the short spell — the too-short spell — of 63 hours and change (including sleep time) and you inhale as if through a double-wide straw.
which, from time to time, is a very fine way to practice the art of being alive. as if the edges of your consciousness were bordered with a high-voltage fence. where, if you drifted into unconsciousness, into not paying-attention, a wee little zap to the noggin would jostle you back into full-throttle live-in-the-moment.
i remember how, in the days just before our wedding, a wise someone whispered to me a trick i’ve tried to ply ever since, even though the original instruction was only meant to pertain to the bride’s walk down the aisle: freeze frame the moment, the wise person intoned. take snapshots in your head, all along the way. that way you’ll never forget it.
and so, i attempt to pull that old trick from my toolkit whenever the occasion demands. as it did this christmas. as it did this very short spell when all i wanted was the one thing i found under the tree: both my boys, and their papa, nestled shoulder to shoulder for unbroken hours.
the little guy practically couldn’t let go. we were hunkered down watching a movie, and there were the little one’s arms, draped wholly across his big brother’s chest. loping down a city sidewalk, the big one flopped his very long arm down and around the little one’s cap-covered curly-haired head.
the two of them stayed up late all three nights. i drifted to sleep hearing their hilarity rise up the stairs, around the bend, and into my bed. last night i woke up long enough to hear a line i promised myself i’d memorize, but then, darn it, i woke up and couldn’t quite remember. all i know is it was something about, “you’re the best brother that ever there was.”
which, really, is all i need to remember, to know.
i wished for one thing for christmas. i wished for one thing my whole life long: that through trial and error, and stumble and fall, and mistake after blunder, i might over time figure out how to live and breathe love in a way that was purely contagious, that spread like a rash.
i wished for a womb of love, long long ago. i prayed that the boy i was about to birth would always, always know that love was his beginning and middle and end. i’ve lived and breathed to untangle wires, sandpaper rough spots; to make what unfolds in this house a pure bath of tender-hearted, full-throttle kindness. with a fat dollop of joy.
and this christmas i watched it unfold, one slow frame at a time.
i’ve got the whole roll tucked in my heart.
happy blessed boxing day, and how was your very own christmas?
mr. firstborn, ala splattering brussels sprouts, ala christmas feast….
How true that is, bam, that it’s often the knowledge that time is short that makes each moment precious. I’m so glad you had such a wealth of those moments this Christmas!
is it math or metaphysics that plays these mind games with time? don’t know, but i do know that it’s a blessing that we are sometimes tipped off that time is bracketed, and we’re wise to savor every blessed drop….
hope you too had a sweet christmas, sweet as it could be, your first without your beautiful mama…..xoxo
Sobbing. Just sobbing. And learning. I do love you
Andrea Lavin Solow
love you back, dear a.l. solow. xoxo
What a wonderful few days you had together, filled with unique family love and joy. The memories you made, those frozen images in your mind, will warm your heart for many, many years. So happy that your Christmas was full of so many blessings.
thank you, jack, and i hope yours was spilling with joys as well…..
I think every Mom, when one or other of her children must leave, certainly knows that lurch in the belly that you so perfectly describe. It happens to me every time I send my son back across the country. The precious moments spent together before that time are literally riveted in my brain. That’s the comfort–that and knowing that he has stepped into his own place, his own world. It helps a little to know that in a few short months he’ll be opening that front door again and flashing that incredible smile, saying, “Hey, Mom!”
Hope yours gets a chance to come home soon after the thesis.
mary, i love that you use the word “riveted,” letting me in on the knowledge that this is what mamas do: we burn moments into our brain, and sustain ourselves on those rivetings in the achy days when we miss them so much…..
and, yes, knowing our babes have stepped into their own place in the world, that’s an emboldening thing too….
I love this!
thanks, beautiful. what a wonder to find you’ve wandered by the chair as i toddle to awake-ness on a monday morning…..
It was so wonderful to run into you and yours on Christmas Eve! Hoping the thesis writing is going smoothly. As usual, your words resonate deeply. I’m lucky that my little ones are all still home. The leave takings begin in about a week. Grace goes back on Sunday and Danny goes a couple of weeks after that. And then there is talk that Sarah might move to Madison in the coming year. Gulp. So wherever they are, wherever they go, my great hope is that they will know deep down that love is their beginning, middle, and end.
amen to love at the beginning, the middle and ever after…..
it was WONDERFUL to have you pop in front of my eyes — in REAL life, as opposed to the cyber-ways.
bless you. your babies are BEAUTIFUL!!!! willie said he remembered what a sweet sweet kid danny always was…….
You have captured and bottled the very essence of the sacred magic of a Christmas time!!
Thank you, I loved it!
The look on your son’s face is wonderful!!!
thank you so much, and bless you…
Dearest, beautiful bam … what a joy and what blessing to have both of your boys under the same roof, especially at Christmas. I understand, having recently returned from visiting daughter #1 with her husband and darling blonde-headed boy in Oklahoma. More than once during our visit, the mere act of sitting in the same room with both of my girls at the same time overwhelmed and brought me to tears – the ‘big ugly’ ones Ms. O. often refers to.
I remember walking up the stairs and overhearing my girls, now 25 and 15, talking about matters only girls really understand while the eldest was applying make-up to her younger (and only) sister as we prepared to go out to a Christmas party. My heart was so full … truly a snapshot moment I will never forget.
It’s so hard having our kids so very far away as they pursue their lives, but the homecomings – they are moments to cherish. Reading this post reminds me that, as mothers, we long to hear the sweet songs on our heartstrings that only our children can play. Blessings and love as always, dear one. xox
oh, pammy, you so understand. i can see the frames you’ve frozen in your own mind. the girls nestled together, one dabbing her brushes in “paint pots” for her little sister. dispensing wisdom along with powder blush….so beautiful, so blessed we are. xoxox
So glad you had a beautiful Christmas with your family and son home from college. I totally agree with every word you wrote above. I savor the time I have with our daughter when she visits us ❤ Hope you have a Blessed and Happy 2015, and looking to many more of your posts.
you are so sweet! happy blessed ’15 to you, too….xoxo
Beautiful and humbling as always… xo
you’re so sweet! it actually makes me sad to scroll back over here and see those pix of that smiling boy’s face, and to know he’s in the final hours of the giant writing saga that is a senior thesis. oh, what i would have given for him to have been able to write from here, where i could have “mother-henned” him for the last three weeks instead of knowing he was off, practically all alone, just him and his stacks of library tomes.