Your hair still smells like that faraway place, the one you went to without me. Foreign shampoo and laundry dried on a clothes line. Was your hug always this firm? In three weeks you’ve grown angular, a little less baby fat, a little more teenager. But your smile still illuminates your face. It’s just like that first smile, that toothless miracle ever receding in time. After more than thirteen years, it still surprises me how much your happiness fuels mine.
You come telling tales of your travels. Russians fighting on the plane! Mediterranean beaches! Cousins who’ve grown and learned English, boys who flirted from cars, stray cats you fed behind your grandmother’s house. I feel joy for your unfurling, but a smidge of something else too. Not hurt at being left behind, exactly, but more the metronome of your passing years. Were you this big three weeks ago? Was your vocabulary this varied? Your voice this deep? You’re mine, of course, my creation as much as any words I’ve written or sketch I’ve done, but you’re more and more the world’s each day. I celebrate your every victory while understanding that each new flag you plant edges my Mommy self closer to irrelevance.
I debut your new rooms to you, freshly painted, floors polished, baseboard gleaming white. Your new spaces are chock full of interesting goodies. Remodeling your rooms is how I’ve kept myself from missing you. I’ve been planning every detail for months, buying color-coordinated accessories, imagining that I can give you the life I dream for you with the right club chair and a well-placed throw. I hope it’s that easy but I’m not sure. I tell you these are the rooms in which you’ll both grow into adulthood. I’ve made them sufficiently sober, taking stickers off the wall, replacing too-childish bedding with something more sophisticated. You gleam. Growing into adulthood in these rooms means something different to you than it does to me. You seem to want to speed that day. I want to hold it at bay for just a bit longer.
You fill the house with your bubble gum vibe. There are ombre hair pictures to show me (Can we dye the ends of my hair this purple color?) and The Adventures of Gumball cartoons to blast. I once resented how you commanded space and oxygen, but that was when I wanted to command space and oxygen of my own. Somehow, magically, you’ve sanded me down to a smoother version of myself. I am happy to just soak you in and let you have it all just to have you near me.
I come down to the living room, comforted by the muffled sounds of your activity upstairs. The house has its voice back. I don’t need to see you every minute. It’s enough to know we share shingles and walls. You are home, finally. Things are right.
Get the start of the story in To my children on their leaving day. Click here.