pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Tag: conversation

“my childhood is over.”

when he was not even 2, he looked up through the skylight as i tucked in the covers, soft by his shoulders. “mommy,” he wondered aloud, “who puts God to bed?”

when he was 3, he looked up from the kitchen table, and asked, “mommy, what is facetious?”

i’ve been side-by-side with this questioning child for 18 years now. i’ve gotten used to the way words unspool from his mouth, from his mind, from that heart deep inside.

but that doesn’t mean i’ve stopped catching my breath, feeling the air stopped in its tracks, when some of the thoughts come.

and so it was, the other night, sitting at dinner alongside a pond in chicago’s lincoln park, that great front yard of the city, looking south on the muscled shoulders of steel and glass that scrape the sky.

we were feasting, had sipped the watermelon, basil and gin cocktail (i don’t drink gin, but this had to do with a newspaper assignment, and that boy beside me, he sure didn’t mind). had scooped the very last drop of asparagus puree from our plate, and duck rillettes from a charcuterie slab.

the little one and his papa had gone off to visit the so-called powder room, when my brand-new 18-year-old took in one of his sighs, the kind where the smile begins with the first uptake of air, and the eyes start to glisten, and i pretty much know that what’s coming next will enchant me.

“you know,” he began, “this is the first time in my life a whole phase of my life has ended. my childhood is over. it’s not like you can reach back into any of the moments and shift it around. it was what it was. and even if i don’t remember one moment, or the one after that, the experience of that moment is all there, is a part of who i am.”

then he just smiled.

or i think so. for my eyes were veiled in a scrim of tears, that holy blessed water that anoints so many moments of life. sanctifies. signals, my heart has been touched here. is pounding. is spilling. cannot be contained.

“my childhood is over.”

i tumbled the words in my head, in my mouth, so many dew drops of wisdom packed in each one, so rich was the taste on my tongue.

“my childhood is over.”

and so it is.

and that, perhaps, is the crux of why 18 matters. not that he can now buy cigarettes; which you know he wouldn’t. not that he can vote, which he can and he will. oh, will he. and not, as he remembered to tell us when ticking off the new-found legalities, that he can now buy playboy magazine. which i would bet he won’t do. (and which prompted the little one to ask, loudly, “what’s playboy?” to which we all shooshed him quite emphatically, as fears raced through our heads that he’d be tossing that just-discovered word around on the fifth-grade playground.)

“my childhood is over.”

the words kept tumbling through my head, and suddenly so many scenes pop-pop-popped.

the summer camps at the zoo, and the planetarium, and that great hall of midwestern pluck and twang, the old town school of folk music.

the little boy in the NASA astronaut suit. the little boy in the blue-striped engineer’s cap. the boy on the baseball team in hyde park; the boy standing in the T-ball outfield, turned away from the pitcher’s mound, pointing toward the sky, hollering, “look, there’s venus.”

the boy sitting on the roof of the playhouse on the playground at lab school, watching–not playing in–the schoolyard games. the big move to the 10-mile-away town where all is leafy, is mown, is too-often manicured, leaving behind the pop and the whir of the city he loved. the el rides, back. the boy who would not leave his city. a boy forever enchanted with urban grid, and thoreau’s wilderness.

the tearful nights in the kitchen. the angst of all-nighters. the company he found in the pages of nabokov and faulkner and emerson. the arc of limitations he tested, wrapping his palms ’round the oars, rowing his heart out, not looking back.

it was all the quilt of his childhood. his childhood stitches now pulled through the cloth, now set.

it was what it was.

forever will be.

and i couldn’t help but think of how very wholly i had poured myself into the work of being his mother, of all the hours and brain cells and blood cells it took. the signing up for this camp or that. the filling out form after form. the driving him long ways, and jam-packed ways, at all hours. the praying. the worrying. the peering in through the classroom door to see that all was well.

mothers do that, knowing or not. we set out to be our child’s field guide and companion. we arrange and re-arrange. we call people we don’t know, speak words that don’t come easy sometimes. we listen 24 hours a day. we carry our children wherever we go, even when the miles between us are many.

even when they’re 18. and beyond.

but for that whole first chapter, the one whose last page has just turned, i was fully awake, fully on board.

i gave that boy the best that i had. i’d made him that promise. so help me God, i did not run away, not on the nights when i had no answers, not on the mornings when worry consumed me. not when, for the 9 millionth time, i walked in his room and witnessed what happens when a cyclone blows through.

i was, forever will be, the mother who plays in his childhood scenes. who will endlessly loop. i’m the one off to the left in so many frames. i am, more than anything, the one who is beaming.

the fact of the matter is this: the greatest gift i’ve ever known is the gift of being that boy’s mother. i have learned volumes. fallen umpteen times. scratched the depths of my soul, so help me God.

i have preached and promised and pleaded. i’ve stirred and baked and spooned in whatever was needed, oatmeal to amoxicillin, i’ve served ’em all.

it’s what we do when we discover our deepest calling is the call to mother a child.

that childhood is over. and my tasks there are laid to rest.

but that boy is riding today, in a car full of 18-year-olds, to a faraway city in the belly of michigan. there’s an interstate between here and there, and 18-wheel rigs that whiz by, hellbent on getting wherever they go in a hurry.

it’s time to let the boy go. his childhood is over. but don’t think for a minute that this day will be easy. his father is tied up in knots. i’m the one soothing, saying, he’ll be fine, when deep in my head i picture terrible things.

my last words as he strode out the door, that strapping tall boy with the duffle slung over his rock-hard shoulder: “come home safe, or i’ll kill you.”

dear Lord, hear my prayer.

the murky picture above is not so murky in my mind. it’s my two boys, after dinner, with the chicago skyline rising up over their shoulders. fireworks were exploding from behind those mounding rainclouds, and at first we thought it was red lightning, making for an unforgettable step into the night, as we left the north pond cafe, where we’d savored an unforgettable feast, an unforgettable marking of age. my camera didn’t do what i wanted, but i love the image anyway. it’s the way memory fades, yellows around the edges.

please forgive my tendency lately to write here as if i am tracking time, the close of my firstborn’s childhood, as he put it. one of the gifts of writing is that it serves as glue, to stick snapshots to the pages of your life, so you capture it, hold it. these stories are for down the road as much as for today. they are for me to read and re-read some day; they are for my boys to tuck in their boxes from childhood. in writing of life’s passage, i hope that each and every one of you finds a spark of your such passage, or the passage of someone you love. a blog is an odd-duck of a thing. a blog of four and a half years, odder still, perhaps.

these are but swatches of my heart. and if they spark something in you, my prayers are answered. do tell: when you hear the words, “my childhood is over. it was what it was….” what sparks to your mind? what are the scenes from your own childhood that have lasted through all the years?

long walks and talks that never end

the end of the long hard story that was junior year of almost college is that, well, it ends.

ends any hour now, actually.

already is gliding toward close, is pressure cloud lifting, is window for words.

words, for my sweet boy and i, are the long-tested glue that hold us, cement us, keep our hearts in connection.

that boy and i have spent long long hours, over the years, deep in the forest of words.

we’ve climbed down to the side of a brook, watched the light dapple through leaves. savored the joy, pure delight, the swapping of stories. we’ve hiked into the deep, plenty of times, marveled at the heft of the tree trunks, the length of the shadows, the sound of the silence except for our words. once or twice, we’ve found ourselves lost, at the end of a trail. or so it seemed, as we pushed back the brush, searched for the sliver of clearing that would show us the way.

i don’t remember when, really, the long talking started. i do remember a young boy, maybe four at the time, walking in circles, unspooling his thoughts as i stood there and listened. we lived in a house with a square kitchen island, and that was the mooring, it seemed, around which he strode and he thought.

i remember the stairs, the ones that rose as if floating on air, no backs and no sides, just up. or down, with precipitous drop. i remember sitting there, for hours on end, watching the slant of the sun as it fell on his face. i remember the tears. i remember the stories. i remember the questions.

i remember the nook in his room, the slant of the roof right over our heads. i remember the leaves of the trees, brushing up against glass. how his room was a perch. a loft for high thoughts. i remember playing with blocks and towering stories.

as far back as i can remember, the boy and i have lived with our hearts inside out. little to hide. no words not allowed.

i suppose i set out to be the sort of mother who always had the “open for business” sign on the door. and in our house, the telling of story, the landscape of heart, is most serious business.

junior year, though, got in the way.

oh, the stories we started to tell. but then, oops, we cut ourselves off. knew we couldn’t go round that bend. not with math books and junior themes, faulkner and fdr twiddling their thumbs, up on his desk.

so for the last couple of months, too often, we clamped it. tightened the lid of the jar, lest stories begin. lest we get lost on a miles-long hike back to the woods that we love, the woods of the words.

the one short jaunt we’ve allowed, on all of these nights of late-night study, is our walk in the dark. around the “big block,” we call it. a study break. a bedtime preamble, literally. for me that is. for him, there’ve been too many nights with no bed in sight, but that’s over now, almost.

he can sleep all he wants.

and we can talk all we want.

just last night we went for our walk. and when we got to the very last corner, the one that turns us toward home, he pointed left, away from our house, deeper toward story.

i indulged. we kept turning corners, away from our house, for a good extra half hour.

oh, there were stories to fill every step. right up to the end, right up to the stoop in front of the door.

and oh, it felt fine to be back in the business of endlessly tilling our hearts.

my sweet boy and all of his stories are back. the long year is over, is ended.

all i need now, for the summer ahead, is a thick pair of soles for miles and miles of story.

it is a blessing, i know, to march by the side of a boy of 16–nearly 17–who still finds reason to walk with his mama, talk to his mama. sometimes, in the dark, i take his elbow, to keep from tripping over cracks in the sidewalk. the top of my head comes just to his shoulders. we’re quite a walking pair, little mama and her towering lad. oh, what a gift to take on the darkness with a boy of long stride, and long story.
what’s your preferred mode for soaking up stories with the someones you love?

thinking in circles

last night, while i scrubbed the onion burn off the bottom of a pan, i dove in deep in conversation with a mind i have known since delivery, which i think was just the other year.

heck, i can close my eyes and see that brain unborn, an ultrasonic skull, white-on-black on screen, the fuzzy outlines of cerebrum, the big black space i once mistook for lack of brain. until the radiologist talked me off the ceiling. i’ve had my eye on that gray matter since way back, in the beginning.

only last night, suddenly flashed forward, we parsed evil versus harmful. evil, he pointed out, is big picture; harmful is far less sinister in scope. next, he told me why he worries about organized religion; he worries that too many are too judgmental. who do people think they are, he asked, judging other people? it simply makes no sense. the God he knows forgives.

then he tossed out this: “people say you’ve gotta be good because you’ll go to heaven. it’s not about heaven,” he said as if that’s plain as day. “it’s about how you’ll impact other people.
“oy!”

not a heartbeat later, he’d moved onto deep forgiveness and i’d moved onto the pan that steamed asparagus.

he circled the sink and me, the boy who’s walked in circles as he thinks ever since he started thinking, which might have been the original day he lifted foot from ground and placed it back again. nearly 13 years, he’s walked circles ’round me; now, i realized as i grabbed for towel to dab at dripping pan, he thinks circles ’round me too.

when all the pots were clean enough, he and i indulged in sweet dessert—even deeper conversation. we retired to the maple table, we pulled up chairs, an after-dishes tete-a-tete all too rare in the world of over-busy, overburdened children. a tete-a-tete that might be required should anyone ever think to license those who sign certificates of birth.

while he ticked through list of one to twelve, a ranking of degrees of evil, each culled from news reports of recent years, i couldn’t help but note how on the days the news had happened, i’d so fiercely blocked him, little thinker, from this very litany of horrors—columbine, timothy mcveigh, the east texas worse-than-lynching death of james byrd, jr., the black man tied behind a pickup truck and dragged down a country road (my thinker’s pick for evil no. 1), and of course 9-11, which unfolded just minutes after i’d put him, then third grader, on a 12-seat van, newborn in my arms, his first solo ride to school on the far side of the city, a ride that, torturously that september day, coursed him through the shadows of chicago’s tallest towers.

back then, not long ago, i’d not wanted him to know the world could hold such hell.

and now, just minutes later, he was almost-man equipped with mind that studied every shade and shadow of every real-life horror story, probed for what it meant well beyond the news. a mind, i couldn’t help but notice, i could drink like desert water for the rest of all my days.

i shook my head, although he didn’t see me shaking. how, i wondered, did we get to here so fast? how is it that all those bedtime prayers, and all those late-into-the-night conversations, the ones where tears were wiped, the ones where stories told and questions asked sometimes felt like brill-o to my heart, how is it that while i was keeping watch, i swear i was, he had unfolded from little thinker of big thoughts into this mind, this soul, who, as i watch, is sharpening that tool, the way a carver sharpens knives, so he can use it to try to rid the world of what he sees as evil and injustice.

there are not, it seems, too many moments when you freeze the frame, see what’s taking shape before your very eyes. not on-stage moments. not graduations. not holding up a torah, or taking first communion. but right there, at the kitchen sink and just beyond, at the same maple table where you once set your elbows and launched a life of asking big fat questions.

there are a million moments along the road to that maple table and the parsing of degrees of evil that are, simply put, not a lot of fun.

there were fevers when the mercury shot to 105. and back at the beginning, weeks of rocking him beside the tub with the water running hard, something about the rushing sound that soothed (hmm, wonder if that’s why he now takes showers that could go on for hours).

there were schooldays when i heard all about how he’d stood alone on the playground, or perched on the roof of the climbing house, keeping watch on all the other children playing games without him.

and then we up and moved in the middle of fourth grade, and he endured a whole semester as the new kid from the city, the kid who in a town where baseball truly mattered, barely ever got on base, and swung at nearly every ball.

but sitting at that table, watching how he thinks, realizing that i was talking to a soul i couldn’t have designed to be more nourishing to my own soul, i couldn’t stop the warming down my spine: i’d do it all, all over again. in a blink, please sign me up.

it is perhaps the sweetest after-dinner morsel i’ve tasted in a long, long time: half an hour being circled by my firstborn child.

might i mention that it is exceedingly hard to write about how you love your growing-up child. i groped my way through the dark just now. i do it not to say how wonderful he is–that’s not the point at all. i do it to hold up the fact that here we are, some of us, in the very blessed front-row seat, watching the spectacle of true creation. it is almost unspoken, shared perhaps in pillow talk, the truth that what we’re watching takes our breath away. this is, i hope and pray, a place where we can whisper out loud the things not spoken often elsewhere. it is majesty, in rawest form. and though it’s hard as heck to put words to God’s most divine creation, i thought it worth a take. this, after all, is life in roughest draft. as always, i pull in close, i would love to hear your thoughts…

and while you’re at it, please, keep my blessed friend susan and her mama in your prayers. they could use a few today.