Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the edge of seventeen


I'm sitting outside holding a baby. At work. Preschool. It's hot, the sun is beautiful and glorious and radiating into the sleek arms and legs and faces of little children playing all around me. It's later in the afternoon, some children are tagging around the gate, subdued, waiting for Mom, Dad, Grandma. The leaves are lime green. Adult faces are sagging. Tired, but cheerful. I am present. I am happy. And then I see my son. My Dakota. My boy. My first baby, my singleton, the baby I had all alone to myself with no Daddy to have to share him with. This is the way I remember it, in my heart. I didn't have to share him. I slept with him against my heart and rib and breast and certainly it would be fair and true enough to say I have never quite put him down. Although he will be seventeen this month, over six feet, beautiful blue eyed blonde haired bright faced laughing son. I easily understand the crazy mother of literature who keeps her son living at home and sabotages his relationships, I am a few rock skips across the lake from her. Because he was my first love, and because I had no man to share him with, and because he saved my life. I cannot help that. It is the way it happened for us. I still have his preschool teacher's letter home that said he was the best and sweetest child she had ever had in her class. And it is a testament to my heart then that I thought Of course he is. My son at two years old said please and thank you and when going to do something he wasn't sure of, paused and looked at me to see if I would nod yes or no, and when it was no, he listened. My son at three years old waited patiently for me in stores because he understood and was able to carry out taking turns. He rescued lizards. He danced with me. He loved pink clothing and wore pink nailpolish until four years old. He loved Star Wars, legos, magnets, dinosaurs and Pokemon cards. He loved reading and being read to. He had an old soul. He made direct and constant eye contact when conversing. He woke in the middle of the night scared and said Momma I need you, and then when I held him told me, Momma I know you will always help me when I need you, no matter what. And I cried and held him tighter and when he was fifteen and making everyone around him hate his guts, I heard his little voice in my head saying this to me and I held him tighter.
So when I saw him on the playground, in my mind, the way he used to be, somehow it was the right moment with the right angle of the sun and the right drowsy openness of my heart and I was completely and totally stunned to realize I will never see that little boy again. Do you understand? I had to cover my mouth. I had to close my eyes. I saw his curls. His blonde waves and curls, his little sweet pinchy smiling face, completely open and trusting and tiny. His little hands always in my hands. His awkward shorts, always too big for his tiny waist. My son's chin. His enormous blue eyes. His little boy mouth and the way he smelled around his neck and in his hair and his armpits. His tiny butt on my lap, his arms around his neck, my boy. I held my hand to my face. I realized that when we love our children, as children, we are loving a completely temporary being. Like the stars in A Wrinkle In Time. We are loving little human beings who will never be there again. We are putting our hearts and souls into the beginning of a person. And then that little person runs away with their heart and pulls it straight out of our chest until our entrails are flying behind them wherever they go however far they go and we are never comfortable or fearless again in the same way. That little person is in the bigger people. But it's not the same person, it's not a fairy tale where they are always there, because they are not, they change like everything changes, only so brutally fast, and that small sparrow boy I put my entire heart and soul and guts into is a soon to be seventeen year old man-boy who will never again be my best friend going to the bookstore four times a week to sit perfectly happy and almost silently for hours with his Momma reading in Borders until we went home to eat and flop into bed together and snuggle up close until that little boy said Momma you breathe too LOUD and turn the other way but make sure his feet are still touching my feet and fall asleep and I would read until I fell asleep- that little person is a memory and a flicker in my son's sweet face.
I felt a deep and profound sense of loss that was the loss of my son baby boy but also the recognition of loss that is inherent in good parenting and then even more so the deeper pain of recognizing how for us human beings loss is the bell that rings in our ears our entire lives until it rings for us and then we cannot hear it.
I cried today because for the first time I really understood that my son is going to leave.
Mary said...

My boy Will is 15 in a month or so.

You have captured so lyrically how THAT feels. I am going to bookmark this post and show it to him when he is ready to read.

And tell him THERE , that writing there is how I feel.

x

krista said...

crap, maggie. you just ripped my heart out of my chest. this is so beautiful it hurts to read. and i think about my daughter becoming something other than the center of my world and i can't stand up straight.

Amelia said...

Oh my. I will never be ready for this.
So so beautifully written.

Annie said...

Hi Maggie,
All true, everything you've written, and I identify with it so much. My little boy is now seventeen, and the cuddling and the reading books together is done. But despite some difficult days these past six months, where my tensions have been so high, due to loss and grief of another kind- I feel he is still that son, that little boy, that rescuer of lizards. I know, because I know, that little girl I was is still in me, and I will always need my Mom. They will move away from us, but I know there comes a time, when those walls come down, and he will be with you again in every way, chubby fisted, holding your hands. It is not a comfort perhaps, but it is a truth. My husband feels the loss of our littlest boy, more than me; but I try to focus on the little boy I know is in him. In rare moments, I still catch that glimpse. I have had thoughts, lately, too, though, where I wish he could again, be three years old, or maybe six. In other ways, I'm glad he's seventeen, and if I could just accept it a little bit better, my loss of control over him, I'm starting to think, maybe we can still be good friends. We went out to lunch today, and it felt simple and good.

Elizabeth said...

Damn. I only have intimations of this, but it's coming. It's coming.

I'm wondering what happens when soldiers are dying on the battlefield -- how they call for their mothers, many of them -- and whether that means that they are, essentially that small boy, never lost from their mother.

starrlife said...

Ow, that hurt. Even though beautifully :) Dread, dread, dread....

Julia said...

Yes.

But the other thing is, nothing and no one can ever take all that time and all that love away, because although reality passes it isn't temporary. You have given him something permanent. And he has given you something permanent as well.

Corinne said...

Krista said it perfectly, "you just ripped my heart of of my chest." Seriously.
Those are some beautiful moments, memories... and realizations.

Ms. Moon said...

Yes. Exactly. And beautifully, pristine-clearly put.
I always say, "Who came and took my babies and replaced them with these grown-ups?" I love the grown-ups but the babies...
Oh. I miss my babies.
And then...grandchildren.
I love you, Maggie May. I do.

Lora said...

crying, at work. glad I can blame the runny eyes on a sinus infection.

when I see your son, when I see your words about him I see my own son and my own feelings. Our boys seem so much alike.

I know that 17 will come fast, though it seems a lifetime away.

I live in the sort of neighborhood where boys will stay with their mothers until they are married, and sometimes longer. I don't like it, necessarily, but I secretly want that for myself.

Melinda Owens said...

Bittersweet...you described this loss beautifully. My son is 25, my only son, and letting him go was the hardest thing I've ever done, for so many reasons. Now my daughter, who's 18, is about to leave for college in a couple of months and the experience isn't any easier. The thought of her leaving takes my breath away. Thanks for sharing.

Hannah Stephenson said...

Ah, so very beautiful and touching, Maggie!

Lone Star Ma said...

Oh, I know. my fifteen-year-old girl will fly so far and I will be here without her! Waaaaahhhh!

hayley said...

Jesus, Maggie. I'm hysterical right now and my son is only 7. In fact, I'm blown away by your age range of kids. One on the precipice of sitting up, the other on the precipice of life. "Mama you breathe too loud..." oh, the requests of a little boy and a big boy sure are different.

silverfinofhope said...

Just gorgeous.

I can still see hints of my son's newborn face, when he makes certain expressions or is sleeping. My heart splits and tenderizes and then grows back bigger every single day. You've described the feeling perfectly.

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

Maggie, I was nursing Oliver while reading this...and crying while reading this.

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

gojirama said...

Oh Mags, I am in tears. I knowit, so well. My Matthew is 14, 8 inches taller than I, has a girlfriend, may even have a summer job. It's gone way too fast.

Lara said...

Ouch, this hurts my heart! But so beautifully expressed. My little guy is only 16 months, and I try sooo very hard to soak up his little sweetness - crinkly smiles, wide eyes, tiny little butt - but even as I'm there soaking it up, time is seeping away from me! I just know that it will feel like a blink when I am staring at some grown 17-year-old who swallowed up my baby . . .

Shelley E said...

wow! love that- it is exactly how I feel. My son is 14 and starting HS and I feel like this all the time.

Suzanne said...

Maggie - Your writing is so so beautiful and pure.

6512 and growing said...

Thank you for the honesty and beauty of this line:

I easily understand the crazy mother of literature who keeps her son living at home and sabotages his relationships, I am a few rock skips across the lake from her.

I understand. I'm going to need some serious therapy/deep breathing/prayer/beer when my son chooses a partner. (He's 6, so y'know, long way off, but still, you probably thought that 11 short years ago).

Brigindo said...

You said it just right. I've grieve for the little boy Angel as much as I enjoy grown man Angel. I often feel like Puff, of Magic Dragon fame.

Angella Lister said...

Oh, Maggie, I understand this aching so so well, and oh how beautifully said.

Leslie said...

I read this yesterday, on my birthday, and it really hit home, because today is my son's 2nd birthday, and he is so far from being 17. And yet I get it.

You write so beautifully. I think you would love the book The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. It's a memoir, written by the woman who wrote this essay:

http://therumpus.net/2011/05/the-urgent-matter-of-books/

Petit fleur said...

He will leave, but he won't stay gone...

Harley and I go to Borders together a lot too. It's one of our regular haunts. Projecting forward, I can only imagine how you must be feeling.

Sending love,
xo pf

Jessica said...

So beautiful! As a mom, and while not there where you are, I felt this, and feel this, especially when watching my daughter and processing the seemingly random moments of her childhood, wholeheartedly. Just beautiful!

Rhianon said...

This is amazing, I'm crying this has opened my eyes on some things thank you

The Empress said...

Moved me to tears.

My boy is 16 now, and I look at him, and just want to pick him up again.

16 years worth of life together, in a blink of an eye.

Incredible.

Middle Child said...

When my wonderful funny crusty and tender husband was killed four years ago I realised that the risk we human beings take in loving and being loved unconditionally is that one day one will experience loss and a loss made more savage and profound because of the measure of the love. But I would not have had it any other way. In your family there is the "magic" as with ours - not too many have the actual "magic" and you know it when you have it. You will never lose him - he may walk out into his own life as you did but because of that love he will wend his way back bringing with him hopefully someone who loves him unconditionally and will warm to you so that each of you don't see the other as some sort of threat - a hard call which from my experience takes more tolerance from the older ones - one day hopefully he will have and hold a child/children like himself and your family will grow richer.

Evangeline said...

I am just sitting here stunned. Tears on my cheeks. This is so truthfully and beautifully written, and strikes deep, deep, heart-deep for me today.

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