4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
This morning I went in to wake up my son and he was laying crosswise on his bed. His head was over by the wall, an arm thrown over his brow, his long man child legs hanging over the opposite side of the full size mattress.
It is his birthday. He is 11.
I remember nearly 19 years ago driving through New York State, from Cooperstown to New Haven, off the highways and through cornfields. My husband and I were on one of our first dates. We were headed to see the Jasper Johns show at the Yale University art gallery. Apropos of nothing, or possibly everything, my husband, then new boyfriend, said to me, “We will name our first son Jasper. “
I remember looking out the window watching my hand as it cut through the waves of hot summer air, the wind blowing in my face. What is this man thinking? The audacity.
After we were married, and we tried to have children for years, we went away on vacation to Nova Scotia. The house we had was up on a bluff surrounded on three sides by the ocean. Everywhere we went we were surrounded by fog so thick it filled our mouths, dripped off our hair. We could hear the pounding of the surf, but we could never see the water.
We had a conversation that week, about the fact that we were okay never having children, complete in our own sense of a family of two. We would get a house in Maine someday, and we would name it Jasper.
I could see the sign that we would hang up by the door, the letters burnt into an old piece of driftwood. Jasper. It would be a place of respite. An escape. A place of peace.
We tried one more time. Then one more. And we had a lot of bad luck before we hit good.
There is a video of me that my husband took almost two years later, where I am lying on the hospital bed with my hugely swollen stomach lolling to one side. I am high on the epidural, relaxed for the first time that day. And my husband was interviewing me about this child we were bringing into the world. He asked me if our son would be a football player. “Sure,” I slurred, smiling slyly, “he could be a kicker.”
And now here we are 19 years later, or 11 years later, or just twenty hours later. It is my son’s 11th birthday, my 10th Mother’s Day. And he is everything we’d hoped but nothing we could have imagined.
Born exactly on his due date, something we could identify down to the exact minute due to the miracles of modern science, he is absolutely the most punctual person in the family. He is a fiercely competitive boy, a number cruncher, a finger flying beast on the piano. He has taken the recycling out every week for four years without me having to remind him.
When he was little he would come home from preschool and ride in circles in the driveway, first on a tricycle, then the strider bike, then finally his big boy bike, and that was when I knew he was ready to come inside, having shaken the sludge of the day, having finished thinking his Big Thoughts and Important Feelings.
Now I send him out the door to cross country ski in the twilight or to head down to the fields with a bag of balls and his lacrosse sticks until the weight or worry or sheer awesome complexity of the day has been stripped off.
Each day piling on the last, it has snuck by so slowly, flown so fast.
There are moments when I see that something has slipped away (like naps and his baby voice and the pleasure in carrying him.) And I hardly ever notice what has been added (like the way he sits so tall next to me on the couch with his arm over my shoulder.)
Every week for the last two months I have mistakenly put his jeans in my clean laundry basket. I hold them up as I fold them to place in my pile and I see that they are nearly long enough to be mine, almost wide enough, but not quite. I coached his sister’s lacrosse game this weekend wearing his fleece, which I found in a pile of his lacrosse gear in the trunk. He has gotten so big, so absolutely solidly actuated, distinct, independent.
If I think back I see there was the gentle slipping away as he headed to kindergarten, then a mean break as he turned seven then eight, choosing my husband more and more over me as the little ones clung to my hand. But at ten then eleven I’ve become almost immune to his pushing back, and so now there is a gentle leaning towards again.
I’m no longer everything to him like I was once but I’m not quite opposition either on most days.
When he sees me in school in front of his friends who mostly now wear shoes bigger than mine, and he runs over to me and says “Mommy, Mom!” my heart breaks then melts then soars. And then he quickly quickly hugs me hard, letting me for one moment bury my face in his hair without even bowing my head. And then he is off.
It is all there. The longing, the holding, pushing and pulling, every lesson, each letter and number,the lacrosse balls thrown, the notes played, every conversation, mean or kind (mostly kind) of parenting this individual.
He is the best of us and the worst of us and so many things I no longer get to write about because while he is still mine, his stories for the most part are not. But it’s all right there now on his own little world stage, the field, classroom or couch, or stretched across his bed.
I’ll go now into his darkened room, there cocooned in blankets and sweat smell and the stink of boy feet I’ll listen to him breathing, the rhythm juxtaposed against his younger brother’s in the top bunk. I’ll lean in, wondering for a moment when this too will slip away.
“Happy birthday, baby boy,” I’ll whisper into his hair, breathing him in while I can.