Our Eyes Adjust

 

My 3-year old and I have this deal at bedtime—two stories on my lap, five minutes of cuddle time, and a big ‘double hug’ goodnight. Each time, as I flip the lights off after stories and make my way to his bed, I am stopped in my tracks. It’s always darker than black and I can’t see. Even though it happens every night, I am never any less surprised. Every time, I have to take a minute and let the ambient light filter in before I can navigate through the darkness to his bed, and snuggle in beside him. Once my eyes adjust.

Adjust. Adapt. Move forward. It’s in our DNA; we evolve. Our beds, once warm with same-sized bodies and newspapers strewn about on lazy, Sunday mornings are now filled with miniature, ever-wiggling versions of ourselves, tiny feet in our backs, alarm clocks that never give us enough time to meet the demands of our day-to-day, and exhausted partners desperate for sleep, who don’t kiss us goodnight anymore. We barely even remember where we started. Our eyes adjust.

Our tiny babies, once so miraculous and novel, who filled us with meaning as they smiled for the first time, just for us; become burdensome as we struggle for sleep and  time to ourselves. They grow into bigger, saltier versions of themselves, challenging us at every turn, pushing us away and daring us to love them anyway. Instead of their cribs, we pick them up from school. Barely meeting our gaze—we know not to ask about their day. We hardly recall when they were once perched in bulky carseats, filling the air with non-stop-words. Our eyes adjust.

We get so busy living, we actually forget the moments that once shaped and defined us as parents. I don’t remember the last time I sat in a rocking chair with my shirt pulled up to my neck and sleepily nursed a child. Or the last time I zipped up footie pjs or snapped a onesie. I don’t remember the last time my oldest child held my hand or kissed me goodbye at school drop off. And I can’t remember the very last time I set him down and never picked him up again. Our eyes adjust.

New firsts crowd out the lasts so fast we don’t even have time to notice. Our lives fill up with milestones. Tiny, pudgy hands, are now lean, capable fingers; effortlessly playing piano keys and guitar chords. Clumsy toddler steps become swift and sure, as they steal home plate or kick the winning goal. Our laps, once filled with lift-the-flap bedtime books are instead dinnertime discussions of heroes and wizards who face complex moral dilemmas. Four protective stroller wheels transform into sturdy two-wheel bikes; shiny helmets and independence gleaming in the sunlight as we watch them ride away. As accomplishments pile up, trophies and schoolbooks replace finger-painted pictures and carefully constructed clay figures on bedroom shelves. Our eyes adjust.

If we’re lucky, the mundane takes over and we sail through the middle of life. Because darkness can strike unexpectedly, as my friends and I have seen all too well. Divorce, illness, saying goodbye too soon—to parents, friends, or God forbid, a child. In a blackout, the best you can do is stop, breathe, and wait for the ambient light to come. And it does, eventually. Me too, I’m here, I’ll wait, When you’re ready, I’ll listen. It seems insurmountable, but the darkness will lift. Our eyes will adjust.

We move forward. We move on. Some days we are so shiny and new, the future is bursting with promise. Other days we are caught off guard. Maybe it’s an old photo in the junk drawer, the look on someone’s face, a familiar smell, a memory that catches our breath, or the love-worn item we discover under the seat of our car—now forgotten and obsolete, but once full of context. Or it’s the stranger from Craigslist in our garage, thumbing through our kid’s old sleep sacks and checking the tread on tires of a worn down stroller, miles of memories, asking, “How much?” For a minute we lock eyes with them and envy where they are, looking ahead at what we’ve left behind. We close our eyes and soak it all in.

But when our eyes open, we are right where we belong; buttering the toast, feeding the dog, filling our car with gas, picking up way-too-big-and-sweaty bodies from baseball practice, or loading our old memories into someone else’s trunk in exchange for $60.  We move on from the moments we are caught in the dark; stopped in our tracks. We wait. We breathe. We count. And before we know it, we can see again and move forward in the direction we were heading.

Across the dark bedroom floor, to the bed with the little, warm, squirmy, not-yet-grown-up body, waiting to wrap themselves around us. Once our eyes adjust.

This post was featured on Mamalode 

To My Firstborn on the Last Christmas You (Kind of Don’t) Believe In Santa

 

My Darling Dubious Firstborn,

You may have figured out that Santa is not watching you. But I am. I’ve had my eye on you since you first caught sight of the stockings sticking out of one of the boxes we hauled down from the attic; skeptically surveying them as we set them by the mantle.

I saw you at the Christmas parade, steely and removed in your chair, never once allowing a smile or look of amazement to cross your face. You have uncovered the secrets of this game, and you’re not about to play along for One. More. Minute. You’ve not come right out and said it, but I, my dear, can feel it. The jig is up.

While it’s heartbreaking in many ways to see you cross the threshold into the realm of the non-believers; I’m comforted remembering our Christmases together.

Nine years chock-full o’ Christmas magic. We did not happen upon this place without intention. No, our journey has been full of purpose and tradition. Hopeful letters written, red-velvety laps sat in, cookies carefully decorated and placed by fireplaces, carrots divided amongst nine little buckets on lawns—reward for the long journey to your rooftop, and nine wondrous Christmas Eve’s with dreamy wishes swirling through your sleepy head (half listening for the sound of faint bells and click-clack hooves overhead)—experiences marking the years we’ve traveled to get here.

To your 10th Christmas; where you don’t hear the bell anymore.

Though I’m fighting the lump of nostalgia that keeps creeping into my throat, I’ve known it was coming. There have been signs. Three times last month I found Tangerine, your beloved stuffed orangutan, on the foot of your bed, instead of cozied up by your pillow.

And there was no asking about elves this year. Usually, you can’t wait for your elf to arrive and begin his month-long reign of all things silly, in various locations throughout the house.

But not this year.

The first morning your prized elf showed up with a cheeky grin and an acrobatic stance on the advent calendar, you didn’t even break stride or acknowledge he was there. Ignoring his twinkling expression completely, you reached deadpanned past him to retrieve your backpack and jacket, a signal that you wanted to head out the door – to fourth grade – where you’ve grown into a big kid, in what feels like a minute.

You’re growing up so fast, and I’ve never wanted to put you on pause. Every year brings a new version of you, and I’ve loved them all. But with each new rendering, I’m bidding farewell to a younger, more innocent boy. So if I stare at you longer than usual, or squeeze you extra tight, it’s because I am memorizing the you, you are now; before I say goodbye.

I’ve done this in a million invisible ways and tiny moments over the years—said goodbye to all the little yous.

Like the first time you ran off enthusiastically through the door to your preschool class, not turning back for a last kiss or hug.

Or the time you learned to put your shoes on by yourself and never needed me to strap or tie them for you again.

The first time I let go of your two wheel bike and you didn’t wobble or fall, but instead confidently rode off on the path, shouting out, “I’m doing it myself!” over and over in surprise.

When you figured out you preferred showers over baths, never sinking into bubbles or diving underwater with rubber duckies again; me on the side of the tub carefully rinsing the shampoo from your shiny, soft, little-boy-curls.

Or when you told me not to buy you snug fitting pajamas anymore, especially with things like Santa or reindeer on them. Snarky sayings or baseballs are fine—but no snowmen!

And just last year, you said, “Mom, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I don’t really want you to read to me before bed anymore. I just prefer to read to myself. I hope that’s OK?” (And of course it was, is okay, but I still had to take a minute and wash some dishes so you wouldn’t see me shed a few tears.)

You’re doing what you are supposed to do. Growing up. Every time you change and let a part of yourself go, it makes room for something new and wonderful to bloom.

But I know that this moment, this reluctant last year with Santa, is the gateway to a letting go of all the magical experiences that will now be relegated to a younger you. We are leaving the place of Easter eggs, tooth fairies, and leprechauns. I know that we’re turning a corner on your childhood and never coming back here again.

But with great knowledge comes great responsibility, and you my dear are now a magic-keeper for your little brother, and maybe your one-day children. You don’t know this yet, but you will get to visit this place again; through different eyes, but no less full of wonder. As I have with you.

Watching you watch Christmas unfold, through the eyes of a skeptical 9-year-old, is taking its toll on me. But I can’t help hoping that somewhere under your aloof exterior is a smaller, skinnier, more bouncy version of yourself, who will serve as your memory keeper.

A placeholder to a time in your life, when you left cookies for a man you believed flew all the way around the world just to grant your most important wishes. When you wrote heartfelt letters to a bearded stranger in a red coat to bring your “petrified baby dragon” to life.

When you darted down the stairs out of breath to survey the scene under the tree at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, and could barely get the words out fast enough to explain your joy. When exuberance and wonder filled you up, every December.

I hope that one day, when you’re tucking in your own child on Christmas Eve, or stringing lights on a tree with a loved one, that you are reminded of the wide-eyed, younger you, bundled up in snug, snowman pjs, looking into a starry night sky, waiting for any sign of Santa.

I love you with all my heart, all of the yous I’ve met so far, and all of the versions yet to come.

Merry Christmas Always,

Mom

P.S. I’ll wait for you to tell me, when you are ready, that you don’t believe. I’m honored to continue this journey with you, even if Santa will not be coming with us.