Day we picked up Raphael's first pair of glasses: Tuesday.
Day we took them back for his first pair of replacement frames because of a playground accident: Thursday.
Yeah...this is going to work out JUST FINE.
Almost two weeks ago, this boy here went and turned 11.
Eleven! He looks a little smug about it, too, doesn't he?
Because I've been through this before, I am acutely aware that this means he will shortly be turning 12. And then, yes, 13. The years, they get sharply steeper after this one.
Whenever I look at him - not whenever I see him, but whenever I pause and truly look at him - I can feel it, that these are the last days of his free spirited, self unaware, soft-cheeked boyhood. The last grains of that sand are circling the neck of the hourglass.
It's easy to forget that he won't always be a little guy, because there is a part of him that still falls so unselfconsciously into that role. He's still, for now, this person here:
It's not that I'm dreading the teen years - they're good too. Sort of monstrous, but in a really, truly good way. But once this little boy is gone, he's gone. And as great as his young man self will be, I am enjoying this sweet, difficult, rowdy, prone to spilling, sweaty-headed little boy while I still have him.
But today we went on an errand that makes it even more difficult not to see the young man in him. We picked something up that he was very excited about (although I predict the joy won't last beyond...three days). From now on, this is the face I'll be seeing:
This boy, he has my heart. Go slow, son. Go slow.
Today I want to tell you a story about why you don't want to be me, inspired by my genius move this morning. (Long story short: I got up special and early to have an ugly-cry argument with Clay about his RELATIONSHIP with the kids being more important than the rules, and then proceeded to have a complete screaming fit at the children when they got up. Because they weren't doing what I wanted. Nice. Also? I was angry because Raphi wasn't getting ready in time for the program at church. So I screamed at everyone. Because church is so important. I am seven different shades of hypocrite and jerk, and this was all before 9 AM. Don't try this at home.)
So, keeping with the theme of the day, I decided to tell you about the Very Dumb Thing I did about a month ago.
It was a Saturday - a rainy Saturday, which seemed gloomy at the time, but now that my entire state seems to be on fire? Sounds LOVELY. Did you know that half of the nation's fire fighting resources are currently in Colorado, apparently? Yeesh. Please pray for us.
Anyhow, this particular rainy Saturday, Max had a rehearsal for Honor Band. It was the day before his concert, so they were practicing downtown, to get a feel for the stage. I'd dropped him off at the door then swung around to park in the nearby ridiculously overpriced parking lot. Raphi and Sophia were quiet and contemplative in their respective back seats. As I pulled into my parking space, I...I didn't HIT the car in the next space, exactly. I was driving slowly, if stupidly, so I just sort of...PRESSED my bumper against their fender. It was so gentle a contact that neither Raphi nor Sophia even noticed.
And that was why I did what I did next.
I backed up, straightened out, and pulled more carefully into the parking space. Then I turned off the van and sat there, thinking wildly. No one saw. It was barely even a bump. We were in the process of changing car insurance companies, because adding Tre to our insurance was traumatic. I could just...walk away.
And that, friends, is what I did. Shaking like a drug addict, I scooped Sophia out of her seat, waved Raphi to me, and strode away.
For the next hour and a half, the littles and I wandered around the building and waited for Max to be done. They clambered up and down stairs, peeked in classrooms (it was a university building), and doled out genial disruption. I staggered around behind them, weak under the weight of my wrong-doing. Or wrong-not-doing. I couldn't even think over the thundering of the car's tell-tale...um...dent. By the time we were done, I knew I couldn't do it. If the car was still there, I was going to leave a note.
Lest you think "OH, she had clearly had a change of heart and wasn't nearly the terrible person she seemed to be," my first thought when I saw it was still there was "dangit!" But still, a woman of my word (sort of, and after nearly ducking out on my responsibility completely), I started writing a note on a slip of Raphi's origami paper. As I stood there (in the rain. And the guilt), awkwardly scribbling my note, the car's owners walked up. (Did I mention the other car was a pristine BMW? Because OF COURSE IT WAS.)
To make the whole thing even better? Their adorable children were ALSO in Honor Band.
I stammered out my story, in response to which the wife all but cuddled me - "OH, but how GREAT of you to let us KNOW! And I know I have TOTALLY done things like that!" - and the husband peered at the fender, then looked at me and said with real bewilderment, "How did you DO that?"
After all the pertinent information had been passed around, we both got in our vehicles and drove away. And promptly got stuck in a traffic jam. For a half hour we crept along, side by side, trying not to look at each other, while I leaked miserable tears and my children assured me that it was SOMEHOW the other people's fault.
So this is my great achievement from that day. I managed to BOTH be irresponsible AND have to face the consequence of my actions. So no matter how great the temptation, whatever you do, don't be me.
I have never liked to think of myself as an anxious person - perhaps a bit of snobbery, as I've always suspected overtly anxious types. As a dear friend's mother once said, "Those who can't cope don't have to."
However, I will confess to a tendency to fret. I have let this habit steal hours of sleep and days that could have been passably placid. Since marrying Clay, I have allowed myself a small comfort to this bad habit. I will sidle up to him, worm my way into his arms, then say in a voice that I hope is light enough to just skirt pitifulness, "Is everything going to be okay?"
He always hugs me tight and says, "Oh, sure," or even better, "No, not everything, because Max still needs some new shorts," or some such triviality. I love that one, because it suggests all problems are totally fixable.
When Eva died, I stopped asking. The only thing I could see was that this thing, this immovable fact that insisted upon being true, it was not ever going to be okay.
It isn't okay. It won't ever be.
For months now I have felt like I was a mile underwater, with this grief pressing down on me from every side, with its distorting waves between me and everyone else. I could not breathe, I could not move, I could not even see the light.
Until, somehow in the last few weeks, my vision has somehow shifted. I blink, and look around me, and see these people, this abundance of love with skin on it, on every side of me. They drive me insane some days, but here they are, and they love me and - my breath catches on this - I love them too, more than life. The sun shines again, and things are growing in the yard and now we have eight chickens.
That grief, it still sometimes overwhelms me. Saturday we were at church for a spaghetti dinner. I took the second trip from the table to take Sophia to the bathroom. On our way we passed a baby, a bald, luminous, big-eyed baby girl sitting on the floor between her parents. Sophia dropped to her knees and reached out for the baby, who gurgled and reached back. The mom moved to intercept, but Sophia waved her off and said, quite emphatically, "We were supposed to have a baby, too!" I guess she thinks it gives her leave, somehow, with all babies. I scooped her up and carried her off, but I wanted to drop to the floor next to her and weep. We were. We were supposed to.
Moments like that, in the middle of a perfectly fine evening, still clamp down on my chest. It takes a labor-like effort to turn away again, to fix my sight on what I still have.
I won't ever again be able to ask that it all be okay. It won't ever all be okay. But there is enough, and it's good to breathe again.
We went to the zoo. ALL of us (Clay even took a day off work - not just his for-reals, paid job, but off working on the house. That right there is DEVOTION).
It was hot and sort of sticky, and by the middle of the day we were all pretty tired. So of course, this makes sense:
Goober of a great big teenager.
Sophia took this picture of an ostrich.
It was her favorite part of the whole trip.
There was much horseplay and nonsense. I call this one,
"Look, Mom, I can touch!"
"Look, Mom, I can almost touch!"
Eventually all the heat made it necessary to stop for ice cream.
And snow cones the size of a child's head. Think I'm kidding? Peep this:
I swear this kid here was given an ice cream cone something like twelve seconds before this picture was taken. Also, that thing next to his face is the handle of the wagon because he was STILL lolling in it.
Max opted for a root beer float.
Did I mention he's 13?
All in all, we had a lovely day. There's a new, fancy elephant exhibit at our zoo, and it was great. But even better was spending the day with Clay and these goobers here:
So cool the ostrich tried to get in the picture too.
One night, seventeen years ago, I was sitting home alone, watching TV, and hugely pregnant with Tre. My husband (at the time) was working nights, and I was passing the lonely evening by watching ER and eating whatever food couldn't escape me.
This night the ER episode had a story about a girl, a young teen, who had taken her father's car without permission. She'd crashed it, of course (this WAS ER, after all), and was getting her leg stitched up and FA-REAKING out about how her dad was going to kill her. And then her dad came in and grabbed her in a tight hug and dissolved in tears of relief that she was okay.
See, now, even seventeen years later, I'm tearing up over that. Gah.
At the time, however, I was twenty seven months pregnant and hugely hormonal, and I completely fell apart. I called my husband at work, sobbing so hard that I scared him. After a few minutes of elegant conversation that was a back and forth between him, "Okay, take a deeeeep breath. It's okay. It's okay. BREATHE. Can you tell me what happened?" and me crazy-crying in reply, "Huh huh huh huh, I just...huh huh huh..." I finally managed to tell him about the TV show and the girl and the dad and finished with an agonized cry of, "THIS BABY IS GOING TO DRIIIIIVE SOMEDAY!!!"
Well, today Clay and I went, of our own volition, to buy a car for Tre. I could be wrong here, but I suspect he intends to drive it. After looking it over and test driving it and all the stuff you do when buying a slightly ratty used car, we handed over all kinds of money and drove that bad boy home. Actually, we stopped and filled it up with gas on the way home, thereby substantially increasing its value.
When we got there, Tre came racing out of the house, bellowing, "YOU HAVE A CAR!"
He was a little happy.
He jumped in it and proceeded to poke at all the buttons and start to get acquainted with the important features of His Car (radio, cup holders, cool factor). Clay went in the house, where he found Sophia, writing on the computer screen in crayon. He told her no, somewhat sharply, and she COMPLETELY fell apart. He brought her back outside, wrapped around his neck like a forlorn little monkey, weeping loudly and leaking large tears. Raphael climbed in and out and through the windows of Tre's car, almost as happy as if it were his.
Max was making dinner, and about this time he noticed that the gas bottle on the grill had run out and needed to be changed. Clay pried Sophia off his neck long enough to swap that out, and Max started cooking the dinner he'd prepared - bacon wrapped cheeseburgers. The gas was turned a little high, and within minutes the bacon/burger grease had started an impressive fire in the bottom of the grill.
While Clay helped Max beat back the flames that were billowing out the back of the grill, and Sophia trotted after her daddy and Raphael climbed into the space right under the back window of the "new" car and Tre dashed in and out, delivering reports like, "The driver's side speaker DOES NOT WORK. But that's okay! I will deal with it!", I set the table and cut up a watermelon to go with dinner.
The family swirled around me, and I could not help but laugh. That frightened pregnant child seventeen years ago could never have imagined. The reality is far more terrifying and wonderful than she ever could have pictured.
I was driving along, heading home in the middle of a busy happy Saturday, with the two older boys in the van, when I saw you. On the side of the road, with your signs, pushing leaflets at passing cars. You looked part scared, part thrilled by the anger directed back at you. Because if you are hated, you must be on the right path, am I right? You were so young, all of you. Maybe in your twenties.
And your signs. Oh my, your signs. I understand what it is that you were trying to say, that abortion is a terrible thing, and we should not pretend it is something benign. Oh, but.
Would you listen to me if I told you that I, too, am a Christian? (Although of the Catholic persuasion, which I am betting does not count to you.) Would you be able to hear me if I said that I, too, think it is a terribly sad thing when any baby dies, from any cause, at any age? I would also tell you that it's more complicated than you think, but oh, you are so young, and I'm not sure you can hear that just yet.
I'm sorry. I remember being so young and how infuriating the smug knowingness of middle age was. I'm trying not to talk down to you, because I truly wish you could hear me.
Your signs. The pictures. I believe your intentions are...can I bring myself to say "good"? How can you tell yourself that those pictures convince anyone of anything good? Do you really think that weighs in on the side of life?
All I can tell you with any authority is what your pictures did to me. Because I am not a pregnant woman, I may not matter to you. But the tiny, red-skinned body, laid across someone's fingertips? My own daughter was just a few weeks older than that baby when she died. And the severed limbs? The waxy arm and leg, looking like doll's parts, except for the bloody ends? That's what they did to my daughter's body to safely remove her from me.
I may not matter to you, but when I saw your pictures, I yelped. "Don't look at them, don't look," I begged my sons irrationally. What would you do, if you were a teen? My hands went numb and the world narrowed down to a dark tunnel for a moment. I could not breathe I could not think I could not unsee what you did. My belly ached where my baby should be, nearly term, pressing out in every direction, making it hard to draw a deep breath.
The van grew thickly silent, and I somehow managed to drive away. The boys were still, not wanting to face again the broken bits of their mother.
You can tell yourself you're doing God's work, I suppose. I'm sure you have people insisting that's true. I can't see how you can truly believe you're preventing abortions. Maybe your goal is simply to accuse. I don't know, I never read anywhere in my Bible about Jesus coming into the world to brutalize the brokenhearted. But I don't suppose we'll ever see that the same way.
All I can tell you is what you did to me.