Last year right around this time, I took a moment to reflect on the school year, and am so glad I did. Usually, I limp across the finish line in June feeling very little other than spent. June bleeds into July and by then, those last weeks of school are nothing but blur. I’m not sure if there is an entire story arc stretching from September to June, but certainly countless beginnings and endings scattered along the road. Most of the time, I’m just too busy to notice.
When I held my first son almost thirteen years ago, pressed my nose into his downy head, inhaling, I thought to myself, I will never forget this. Ever. I will remember every moment. It didn’t take long (probably three or so sleepless months) for the sad understanding to sink in. That I would forget most of this. That one day ran into the next, ran into the next week, the next month, and year. Most nights, I’d collapse in bed, bone weary, dreamless, and pick up where I left off, sometimes before sunrise. The tide pulled out, washing away the day before.
I was looking back on old posts (like this one and this one), feeling ever so grateful to have a record someplace that this all happened. Pictures capture life, but for me, not like writing it. Writing them down is like catching fireflies in a mason jar, only these stay alive, and somehow become even brighter as time passes. If writing means tasting life twice, I have found without fail, it tastes even better the second time. There is a sweet spot between living and writing about living. When I’m too busy doing, I can hardly breathe. When I’m watching the rain out the window in my quiet house, pulling up my chair to the feast of losses life can bring, fingers tapping keys, I can drown, too. I need both. One makes the other better. There’s a kind of faith I’ve garnered from writing some of it down. I get to choose what to keep.
Mothering babies called for holding on: hold their head to support their neck, their hand while they learn to balance on their feet, cross the street. Holding tight became like breathing. I had an urgency back then, of wanting to hold onto it all, keep it close, keep them little for as long as possible. One can’t go on like that forever, though. Sustenance and dominion give way, over time, to surrender. I will go, in the course of twenty years or so, from not knowing where one of us begins and the other ends, to a house with three empty bedrooms. From eating food off their clothes (I can’t be the only one) and wiping their butts, to being a guest in their homes.
Now, having walked through nearly thirteen years of holding close and letting go, my grip has loosened. Whatever those muscles are that a mother uses daily to hold them tight and push them out the door all at once, mine have become more supple. Not without aching, of course, but they do seem to know what to do. I get to sit back some, and marvel at who they are becoming.