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.
“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.