Something borrowed

[Happy Valentine’s Day! Day three of Robin’s Some/thing old, new, borrowed, blue funfest, in honor of Freedom to Marry week. More folks have joined the party — take a peek.]

Oh, these people. They’re borrowed.

We’re not even borrowing them, really. They’re staying with us for a while. Leaning on us as they catch their breath. Then — poof!

I think of an indelible image of my mother at the kitchen table, waving good-bye to my sister and me as we’d launch our various summertime adventures as kids. We would set out into the 350 acre cow pasture that abutted our house, to look for tadpoles in the small ponds that collected at the bottom of the hillsides. We’d dare one another to get close to the cows. Fashion ersatz sleds from cardboard boxes and slide down the dried oat grass hillsides, way, way too fast. All manner of adventures which, if my own kids were to set out onto them, I’d sooooo not be okay with it. I’d be creeping around with a frickin’ fake bush in front of me.

“Babaaaaaaaa,” they’d intone, their voices dripping with irritation. “Go back home. Pick up a hobby. We’ll be fine.”

Maybe I’d hold out a little bit. You know, in case they might think that the bush really was a bush, and they just thought they saw my feet at the bottom of it. I’d be biting my tongue, trying hard not to say out loud what I’d be thinking: “What do you mean, ‘Pick up a hobby!’ This is my hobby!”

Then after an awkward silence, maybe I’d give in, since there they’d be, staring at me holding the fake bush in front of me. And we’d be on the sidewalk, or whatever. With no appreciable landscaping within a half a block.

“Yeah, okay, fine. Have it your way. But you’ll be singing a different tune when things go south.”

They wave behind them.

“I’ll have my cell phone on if you need me,” I call out to their backs.

Maybe my kids turn and give me a look, maybe not.

They’re still at the stage now when they can be comforted by my holding them, can fall asleep with me holding them, in fact, prefer to. But I know it’s transient. I am lapping up every minute. I don’t care how raisin-y my pinkie finger gets in my boy’s mouth these days (’cause he will grab my hand and just shove my digit in there, like it’s a fine Cuban cigar). I know there’ll come a day when he could take my pinkie finger or leave it. And then there’ll come a day when he’ll pretty much just leave it.

The beloved gets a lot of advisories about what’s to come from the parents of the high school kids she works with. “It goes by in an instant,” they say, whenever they see her with our baby boy. “Like that,” and then they snap their fingers.

One night, following a boffo performance of Cabaret, she was milling outside the theater with some parents, and a gaggle of kids burst out of the door, excitedly comparing and contrasting the various fun-filled options awaiting them. Several of the parents tried, with varying degrees of success, to catch their kids’ attention, to confirm where, if even in a zip code’s radius, they might be headed; that they’d be home by a reasonable hour; that they’d call if they need anything. A ride. Whatever.

“Be safe!”

“Call if you need me!”

Some lucky ones got a full-sentence response (“Don’t worry, I’ll be fiiiiiiine.”), a few really lucky ones got a quick hug, too.

The beloved described to me later the looks the parents gave her after the gaggle dispersed off into the night. The sweet resignation, the shrugged shoulders. What are you gonna do?

My mother practiced saying good-bye to us every day. Trotting down the street next to us as we piloted our bikes, first with training wheels, then not. Then eventually she’d just be standing there, waving, watching us go.

11 thoughts on “Something borrowed”

  1. My son is 6 and has been separating himself slowly from us since his birthday last summer. It is the small separations that break my heart. The look in his eyes when he says goodbye to me at school…the look that says, “No hug today mom, the big boys are watching.” With this very thought in mind, I played Sweet Honey in the Rock’s song, “On Children”, for him and we sang together…”your children/are not your children/they are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself”. For him, it was a song about becoming your own person…for me, it is a song about living with this very idea that our children are exactly as you say – on loan.

  2. First, FemiKnit, did my sweetie pay you to write that? This is a question she asks me frequently, most often after she finishes balancing the checkbook.

    Whether or not she did, thank you.

    And Vikki. Deja vu all over again! I wrote that very same line from that very same song at one point in this very same post (at some point in the wee hours, but the line went as fast as it came: lots of convoluted encircling in those wee hours, like Poo and Piglet around that tree (the horrible Heffalumps!). That poem — as rendered by Sweet Honey — is my single most reliable and inspirational parental guide. At the bottom of this post, I stuck both the poem and a link to the Sweet Honey song. Which I have to make even more immediately accessible by sticking here, too: On Children courtesy (Music by Ysaye M. Barnwell, © 1980 Barnwell’s Notes Publishing; recorded by Sweet Honey In The Rock®).

    Thank you for sharing Miguel’s take on it, which opens up the heart a bit more.

  3. Wow…I didn’t see that previous post. Sometimes, I wish I had an easier time with the struggle of it all. I wish I could say that I always act with this knowledge that I am only a guide. The truth is, sometimes, I don’t.

  4. Ya know……

    when I sent post kudos to the Peanut earlier, on the occasion of his walking, I almost first included this poem in that post, then deleted it because I thought it was too much “Sunrise, Sunset,” like it’s not my place to make that comment on that occasion, you know?

    But since you’re going there in this post, here’s this poem.

    Of course, it would be by Sharon Olds.

    My Son the Man

    Suddenly his shoulders get a lot wider,
    the way Houdini would expand his body
    while people were putting him in chains. It seems
    no time since I would help him to put on his sleeper,
    guide his calves into the gold interior,
    zip him up and toss him up and
    catch his weight. I cannot imagine him
    no longer a child, and I know I must get ready,
    get over my fear of men now my son
    is going to be one. This was not
    what I had in mind when he pressed up through me like a
    sealed trunk through the ice of the Hudson,
    snapped the padlock, unsnaked the chains,
    and appeared in my arms. Now he looks at me
    the way Houdini studied a box
    to learn the way out, then smiled and let himself be manacled.

  5. First of all, as a long time reader-from-afar… bravo! Your blog is fantastic.

    Thought I would add to the discourse about children being borrowed. 🙂 These poems all come from the words of Kahlil Gibran, who has great philosophies on many aspects of life. Beautiful imagery.

  6. Virgo, that is beautiful. Gorgeous. Thank you so very much. I have to admit to my heathenry and say that I don’t really know many of her poems, outside of the ones that make it into the New Yorker. On a week I actually managed to read it.

    Wow. Touches at the center of one of my favorite reasons our second child went XY, rather than XX.

    And nyclel, welcome! Yes indeedy. I read his “On Marriage” at some friends’ wedding, and when I got to the line “Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf,” my homie started snickering uncontrollably. Then her other main gal (we weren’t best men, exactly) started to snicker. Then the blushing bride. It was a debacle. Or a raging success, depending on your vantage point. Loaf. Who knew the innate humor value that word has?

    By the way, did you read the recent review of his collected works, by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker? Compelling, and also slightly creepy.

  7. LD, I know your time is at a premium, but I wager you would find Olds worth it. She writes in clear, sparse style but with amazing power. Her poems are very photographic, the reader can’t help but see them. She has two children, grown now, and her work is full of poems about them. Having read your blog posts about your kids, I’d say you could appreciate them. She writes about other subject matter as well, including some heartbreaking stuff about her own parents. She also made news two years ago for refusing an invitation to appear at the National Book festival: Open Letter to Laura Bush

    I’ve seen quite a few poets read during my time, including Adrienne Rich, and no one blew me away more than Olds. I can still remember that reading and it was almost 20 years ago.

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