I knew it was coming. I mean, it was right there on door jam in the kitchen. It was only a matter of, well, time.
This barely decipherable picture is the spot on the kitchen door jam where we record everyone else's skyrocketing height. My youngest son is, as of Tuesday, officially and irrevocably taller than me. I am now the shortest member of my household.
I knew it was coming, but I brought it on myself. Some evil genius prompted me to say, “Hey, let’s look and see who is taller in the mirror."
We looked at each other, back to back in the mirror. "Oh, My God!", I cried, clutching my head in despair. Simultaneously, a gleeful smile lit up his eyes. We turned to face each other. Eye to eye, we wrapped our arms around each other and stared into each other's faces. He grinned broadly, triumphantly. My eyes started to well. My baby. Gone.
He saw my sadness. And because he's just like that, he bent his knees and shrank down. He looked up at me again, one last time.
There may not be an end to motherhood, but there are endings. This is one, marked out in smudged pencil scratchings on a wall. And the only thing that mutes the sadness is the smile on his face, spreading like a brand new dawn.
My mother, bless her, is a bulldog.
She called this morning, early.
“I have been thinking about your Easter egg hunt,” she announced without any preamble. She then proceeded to convey to me what I think is probably the apotheosis of the egg hunt - or at least it will be in our house. Here is the plan:
Every member of the family gets one egg upon which he or she writes a word that represents something he or she is hunting for in life. For family members who need a little inspiration in the word department, I am going to print out these suggestions. On Easter morning, everyone hides his or her own egg and hunts for the eggs that the others have hidden. Once you have found an egg, you stop hunting. That way, we each find what another is searching for.
I decided to run the plan by Youngest, since he so adamantly insists that he not get cheated out of the fullness of his youth just because his mother can’t deal with loss and change.
“Youngest,” I announced (you might notice the resemblance to my mother) “we are not going to be having a typical egg hunt this year. We all know there is no Easter bunny…”
I trailed off. The look on his face stopped me cold. He stared at me, wide-eyed, open-mouthed. The picture of shock. How dare I say such a thing?
He kept staring.
I laughed some more.
His face didn't move at all.
I laughed so hard I banged my forehead on the steering wheel.
He surreptitiously checked the look on his face in the rear view mirror.
I couldn't believe he could hold it so long. I kept laughing.
He kept staring.
I gave up.
“OK, OK, there is an Easter bunny."
His face returned to normal, a picture of benign interest.
"But we are going to handle the hunt the way we handle Christmas stockings,"I continued. "We are all going to give the Easter bunny a hand.” I then explained the re-born Easter egg hunt scenario.
“Sound good?” I asked.
He nodded his assent.
“Great. So off the top of your head, what word do you think you will put on your egg?”
“Mom,” he said slowly, as if speaking to someone exceedingly dense, “That is not something I can come up with off the top of my head. I am going to have to think about that. It’s gonna take some time.”
He knows his own heart and mind, my Youngest.
After reading all the thoughtful and thought-provoking comments on that last post, I have spent more than one day puzzling over whether or not to let the Easter bunny hop off into the sunset. When I couldn’t come to a satisfactory conclusion, I decided to go back to the source.
My source, that is.
“Mahhhhhhmmm,” I cried when my mother picked up the phone, just as my boys yell for me from the depths of their rooms, “I don’t know what to do about Easter.”
We discussed my dilemma, the sense I have of being trapped by the trappings of our traditions, the unhappy disconnect between the purpose of the celebration and its expression, my discomfort with the commercialism that has crept all over the holiday like some sort of toxic mold.
She is devoutly Catholic, so her go-to response when asked how to rein in the sugar-crazed insanity is to go back to the story of Christ.
“That’s not going to work for me,” I pointed out. It is a source of great sadness to her that most - make that all - of her children have, how might I put this politely, ambivalent feelings about Catholicism.
In the awkward pause that ensued, I changed the subject to my paper easter egg. One thing I realized after posting the picture of my beautiful paper egg is that there isn’t an Easter bunny anywhere to be seen on it. Just daffodils, narcissus, forget-me-nots and pansies. What, I wondered, would happen if I simply took the Easter bunny out of the equation?
I mean, I love the concept of the egg hunt. I can easily see the egg hunt as a metaphor for the essential human quest for meaning, for wonder, for a connection with the mysteriousness of life.
In that scenario, the eggs themselves are the point. Not the candy, not the coins. The eggs become symbols of what we hunt for, all our lives.
I am so fine with this idea.
Did I tell you my mother is no slouch in the holiday department? Well, check this out. She had the idea of writing words on the eggs. You know those crayons that you can use to write on the eggs so that, after you dye the eggs, the letters stand out bright white against the color?
Well my genius mother suggested writing words on the eggs. Words like: Joy. Wonder. Enlightenment. Mystery. How's that for deepening the tradition, reconnecting with the point of it all?
So now, my brilliant readers, will you help me with my re-born Easter egg hunt? I’ve got a lot of eggs to hide and those eggs need words. What do you hunt for in your life? What would you most like to find?
Anxiety and I are in a real relationship. We are close. We are like this.
We have a bastard child together, Anxiety and I. Its name is Worry. I carry Worry in a sling with me everywhere I go.
I worry most about my Oldest. I’m not exactly sure why. Sometimes I blame it on the fact that he was 6 1/2 weeks premature. I worry that he wasn't ready for life and will never recover from being shot into it unprepared. Sometimes I blame myself for being so vigilant with him. Once, when he fell hard asleep, as babies do, I was sure I had killed him. I was sure I had unknowingly snapped his soft neck under my fingers. Sometimes I blame it on the fact he was the youngest kid in his class for most of his life, and always clung on by his fingertips as his classmates moved blithely ahead. Sometimes I just blame him for not grabbing life, for not allowing himself, as James Merrill wrote, “to be lived by life.”
Yesterday, the iChat bubble bounced on my screen. It was Oldest. Here is what he wrote:
ive noticed that the easiest way to stay in the present is to notice everything you can about the present
and try to find beauty in everything.
I think it may be time to untie the sling, set my bastard child down, and walk away.
You know how sometimes you find your completely adorable child incredibly, gratingly and undeniably obnoxious? It's kind of an amazing transformation when you think about it. One moment you are mourning his speedy entry into adolescence because it means he will soon be leaving you and the next you are seriously considering reaching over him to open the passenger door and boot his sorry butt to the pavement.
Take, for example, the long car ride home from school today. Youngest was reaaaallly getting on my nerves: he kept putting the windows down after I put them up, he veered dangerously close to being bratty and actually called me "fool" at one point - not a fool, not you fool, just "fool."
As payback for his behavior (note to self: plummeting to their level is not an ideal parenting strategy), I refused to change the music from Bach's Mass in B Minor to something more melodious to his thirteen-year-old ears.
After a really, really long time, we arrived home. And as we were walking inside, I heard him singing a piece of the mass, which pleased me enormously. He had returned to his old form, thank God, and was sliding happily into my good graces until I realized that he had replaced the sacred text, "Hosanna in excelsis", with something to the effect of "Osama vin chelsis." That did it. I turned to him and said tartly, "you know, Youngest, sometimes you can just not say something that is floating around in your head. You don't always have to express yourself."
As he disappeared into his room, he tossed this back to me: "Mom, if we didn't express ourselves, we'd still be English."
As my Oldest and I set out for a hike today, I asked him how he felt about beating his Dad yesterday in arm wrestling. A tiny smile played at the corner of his mouth and then he demurred, "well, he had wrestled with Middle a little while before." Pause. "And he gave up at the end."
I led the way up the steep path out of our canyon and told him that he might have ambivalent feelings about beating his Dad, just as his Dad has conflicting feelings about being beaten.
"One the one hand, I'm pretty sure he will be doing some extra upper body work at the gym," I said, breathing hard, "but much more important, I know he is really proud of you and happy for you to beat him."
I can't tell you his reaction to my motherly wisdom because he chose that moment to pass me on the hill for the very first time.
I'd love to elaborate, but I have to go work out.
In a house with three boys, it doesn't get much bigger than this:
Oldest beat his dad at arm wrestling for the first time.
Amidst his triumph, Oldest was quick to remind his beaten father that, while he had been fresh, his dad had recently arm-wrestled Middle and was thus weakened to begin with.
Mate assured him that he had won fair and square.
Youngest put an arm around his dad and said soothingly, "It's OK, Dad, we'll make it through this."
...when you lean over to kiss your sleeping child, as you have done a thousand times, and whisper, "I love you just the way you are." He stirs and says, "I still like you." Surprised, you whisper, "What?". He wakes more fully and mumbles, "I thought you were (his girlfriend.)"
You know how I was bemoaning the change in direction of the hand-me-down ladder? Well, for the first time in the history of the Great Purge, I actually got a hand-me-down. I am now the proud owner of a very nice, just slightly used, Patagonia silkweight long-sleeved t-shirt. Size, Men's small.