Last year at this time we were skiing in the streets.
Either nervously, wistfully or thankfully. We might not have the adverb in common but we do have the noticing in common: it’s unusually warm for February in western Montana. My garlic is coming up, my fruit trees budding. People are jogging in shorts. There are rumors of early bear activity in the hills.
There is a new space to our days that we don’t dare fill up. Things feel smoother than they have since we had our first kid seven years ago. Our daughters pick out their clothes and dress themselves, unload the dishwasher, feed the animals, remind me to return library books, argue and work it out before I even know what it is about.
We revel in the gloriousness of existing in this state of funky symbiosis, a new place on our life map. Things feels easy in ways they weren’t for years: we aren’t needed like we were; our offspring play together for hours in imaginary worlds and help themselves to snacks. And things feel hard in ways they weren’t for years: navigating this world where my daughters are further away than on my hip or further away than I can shout, bounding up the hillside deep into their own, bright self-discovery.
Margot: OK honey, and what would you like to eat?
Ruby: Oregano Soup
Margot, whispering and out of character: No Ruby, it has to be something I can spell. Like Lucy Soup or Phoebe Soup or…
Ruby: Oh ok. I’d like Ellie Soup please. And a side of Daddy Ice Cream.
There are still plenty of MAMAAAAAs singing from their bedroom as they sort out who gets to wear the tall green socks or sob over Ruby drawing a kitty in Margot’s secret diary without asking. While I am not needed for seatbelt buckling or baby wearing, I am needed in problem solving how to Margot might react to the kid who makes fun of beets in her lunchbox. I am needed to smooth out the “puffy parts” of Ruby’s tights every morning. I take my position as short-order cook for the throngs of their friends who come over. I braid hair and remind them to chew with their lips together. I am now the person they will remember when they are grown and talking about their earliest childhood memories to their friends at a bar.
I remember 5 and 7. My mom in the kitchen humming, slicing pickles, making sandwiches. My next door neighbor drowned a litter of kittens in our creek. Biking circles in the cul de sac, pink streamers from my handlebars. Skipping, my hand entirely inside my dad’s grip as we cleared football fields with each hop. Uno with my little brother. Our tree fort. My canopy bed. Strawberry Shortcake dolls. My babysitter Pam and her teal sweater. Driving with the top down on our red VW rabbit. My kindergarten teacher was like a perfect cup of hot cocoa on a snowy day. My first grade teacher was like the video I recently saw where the mama Osprey pecked her young to death.
Some things don’t change and I like those things just as much as I like the changes. I still carry my kids from their bed (or my bed) to the living room where they wake up in my lap every morning. I still call them Bug and Sweet Potato and they still like it. I still wash their clothes, make their meals, kiss their freckles and wrap my arms more than once around their bodies for a hug. They still think I know everything.
Ruby: Mama, the earth has birthdays like me so is it growing taller and bigger too? Does it get growing pains?
My mom just visited for a week and I wish she lived next door. That will happen in a few years when my parents retire and return to Missoula. She still calls me Burb. She still hums while cutting pickles. She dipped a fine tooth comb into a glass of water and smoothed my daughters’ hair into high ponytails. Ouch! they yelled and then asked for it again and again. I remember that whole scene on my own head like it happened this morning.
Margot and Ruby move about like strong, confident children. I *know* they are strong, confident children but it’s the way they move about lately — engaging with people and their own opinions, that makes me get it. The thing older parents tell you
Don’t blink. She’ll be moving away from home before you know it.
The cliché is so damn right on, its sweetness squeaks in my teeth like those leftover conversation hearts.