January 28, 2014
In winters long gone, my boys would see the first flakes fall and dart outside immediately. It took the older two much longer to get out there this week when the snow began and it amazed me once again how far we’ve come from when they were little. That thought led to a dangerous avalanche of memories, but I kept coming back to the night my oldest jumped out of his crib.
It was the evening of our move to New Jersey. We set up our son’s room first, figuring that with him safely in his crib, we could begin to unpack. But as soon as we put him to bed, we collapsed onto the couch from exhaustion. We awoke to see him staring at us with his dark, deer-like eyes and a grin reflecting enormous pride. Look at what I did! He was in a bed with a safety railing by his next nap.
This tiny person then still completely dependent upon us for absolutely everything was already his own man. I saw clearly that one day, in a future far, far away, when my hair would be streaked with white and I would bemoan the impact of gravity on my torso, he’d strike a similar pose to the one he’d struck that evening and ask for the car keys.
Years later, after he and his brothers learned to swim, I experienced a similar twist in my gut. Watching them ride off without training wheels onto the horizon (okay, just the next street) only intensified the sensation. They were all wondrous milestones that enabled them to edge farther and farther away. Though each gave me pause, I understood that this was how things were meant to be.
The boys’ continued advance towards self-sufficiency has shaken loose one by one the pieces that have long made me feel so needed. But as each new bit hits the ground, I’m not as startled as I was in the beginning. It took me a while, but I know that their growing independence is slowly revealing the parts of me I’d almost forgotten about, making me relevant – once again to myself and to my children in different ways than before.
I am admittedly the sentimental type. I tend to make a fuss about things like the first day of middle school or a first shave. The boys would say I do so to a fault, for everyone reaches these and other such milestones. But I’ve been around long enough to know that this isn’t entirely true, and I sense how painful the mourning for what doesn’t happen can be.
Two years ago, for our middle son’s twelfth birthday, I surprised him during school recess with a huge box of cupcakes. He played it cool – couldn’t look too excited in front of his friends, couldn’t allow himself to look too happy in front of me – but I saw his lips fight to stay level.
On the way out, someone in the office asked me if I didn’t consider him too old for birthday parties. More forcefully than I’d planned, I said that we are only too old when we reach 120. It was the last year of his minority, a year before his bar mitzvah. How else could I teach him, at his age, to treasure the days ahead?
This constant awareness that time is passing and that I am helpless to stop it enables me to breathe as the years quickly come and go. I once believed that I wanted to lead an exciting, spontaneous life. Now I cherish the quiet nights when we are all together as a family, and I am most grateful when things simply proceed exactly according to plan.
Seemingly out of nowhere, I am organizing a third bar mitzvah as my youngest son approaches manhood, while trying to figure out new directions for myself. I camouflage the grey streaks on my head, and I won’t tread into a discussion about the toll of age on the female form. But it occurs to me that I’m happy and grateful for it all, and that I wouldn’t want the story of my life to unfold in any other way – not slower, not differently, though perhaps with less gravitational pull.
Over the recent yeshiva break week, I took my oldest, the one of crib-hurdling fame, for his written driver’s test. The man grading it at the driving school said to him, “Hey kid, nice test!” It won’t be long before he’s asking for the car keys. I won’t gasp or cry when he does, but I cannot promise I won’t celebrate that things are the way they are.