Even a writer can’t change the story of time passing.
A few years ago, I kept a blog. There was one post that I look back on every year at right about this time. I think about raising boys, about sending my kids out into a world full of people and things I can’t control.
Lately, I think about who and what they’ll encounter away from our house and how it might change them. Mostly, I know this is a good and necessary process. My husband and I, while unquestionably delightful and brilliant (ha!), cannot be everything they need.
But I also worry about all the other things. I won’t pretend I don’t watch that bus go away every day, wondering if I can really trust this world to take care of them, when there is so much evidence that school is not always the safest place.
This post, though I wrote it four years ago now — my kids will be in seventh and fourth grades this year — still works to serve as a reminder to me, and maybe to you, to hold what we have and treasure the days, as they are dancing through our lives like soap bubbles, fragile and fleeting.
This summer, my kiddos have changed. I guess they do that every year — hell, they do it every day, don’t they? But this year, Turbo has become calmer, easier to talk with. He’s insightful and smart, and I’m starting to get this glimmering idea that maybe we’ve done some things right.
But he’s changing in other ways, too. He’s embarrassed when I hug him in front of people and won’t kiss me if anyone is looking. Still, in the car in the morning when I drop him off for camp, he’ll look at me as I hug him and whisper, “I love you more.”
And there’s something in that look — a longing, an understanding — something that tells me he knows what’s happening, just like I do. Something that tells me we both feel him growing up, growing away. And even if he might not be able to talk about it, I know he senses that maybe it is something to be mourned, just a little bit.
There’s a knowledge in his expression at those moments that breaks my heart a little as I hear my own mom’s voice in my head telling me that I should never wish away their childhoods. “The days last forever, but the years fly by.”
And when I hug Turbo as tight as he’ll let me, I look into his eyes to see that knowledge, hoping he’ll see the knowledge I carry now — that I know our time is short. That I know he has to move away from me and become independent. That it breaks my heart a littlr, but that I want him to do it because I can’t imagine anything greater than having created a kid who has the confidence and faith in himself to step away. I just don’t know if I’m ready for it to happen in third grade.
Lunchbox veers wildly between sweet, huggable little boy and raging, delirious madman. He wants to be held and hugged in a way that Turbo never really did, but he’s also indignant whenever the word “baby” slips out of anyone’s mouth, lest it might be aimed at him. He is quiet in company and ludicrously crass and vulgar — and hilarious — at home. If I have worries about him, they center mostly on his reluctance to let his personality show to those who don’t get to know him well.
He has spent the whole summer at camp, and just this week as I dropped him off, one of the counselors asked over his head, “Is he always quiet? He never talks.” I wondered silently if it might be because she was one of those grownups who talked about kids like they weren’t standing RIGHT THERE. I’ve gotten variations on that question a lot, usually with Lunchbox right there to hear it.
To me, that’s a version of, “What’s wrong with him?” and I don’t like it. He’s cautious, and you have to earn his trust. And I just hope that his teacher will not be one of those grownups who wants to ask me what’s wrong with him instead of asking HIM what his hopes and desires are for his first year of “real” school.
I guess I’m finally realizing that this whole parenting thing is so much more than I’d ever imagined. I’d thought about family, about having kids. I’d thought about it like a photograph — me standing there with the Major and our offspring. And we’d look happy, and it would just be. I never knew that having children is life eviscerating you, hauling your insides out to be examined and then you slowly figuring out how to put it all back in, but never being able to fit it all back quite right.
I never knew I’d be completely undone by a 2-year-old Turbo refusing to nap, me standing outside his bedroom door, holding it shut and screaming, “I was the marketing director of a public company!”
Like he cared. Like, in the face of his refusal to comply with my rational demands, my past success might make a damned bit of difference. I never knew that I had a wolf inside me who wanted to rip apart the clueless jerk at Walmart who looked at my sweet, tiny Lunchbox (who had to wear a helmet as a baby to shape his head) and asked, “What’s wrong with your baby?”
I never knew that having a kid catapults you into a completely different plane of existence, but it does. And, sometimes, I get to visit that place I used to live, that other world where different types of things seemed to matter a lot. But what I’m starting to see now, eight years into this journey, is that I’m happy where I am, in this alternate universe called “parenthood.”
Every day, I try to remember to hug my little summer-brown boys as tight as they’ll let me. I try to remember to snuggle with them and to lie down on the floor and let them climb on me. I tell myself to take the time because there are ghosts of the future wandering my house now. And I see one of them standing outside Turbo’s room — not one who is begging him to stay inside and sleep, but one who is begging him to come out and just…be with me a bit longer. I want to hold them as tight as I can, all the while knowing I have to let go soon.
Delancey Stewart is the award-winning author of numerous contemporary romance and chick-lit novels. A former travel writer, personal trainer, and wine-seller, she's happy to have finally discovered what she wants to be when she grows up. Stewart has held a board position with the DC Chapter of Romance Writers of America and founded the St. Mary's County Chapter of the Maryland Writer's Association. She lives with her husband and two sons in Southern Maryland, where she spends her non-writing time kayaking, socializing, and finding her next favorite wine.