Saturday, June 25, 2011

And Then The Past Recedes

We were riding in the car. Actually, it was our old blue Mitsubishi Montero.  It only had one seat in the back - very different from the enormous, Nasty Big Boy Van I drive now.  But we only needed the one seat, because we were the typical American-sized family at the time.  We were the obnoxiously proud parents of exactly two children, and Ellie and Joel rode in the back, ages four and two. 

We were driving through the country....Jeff was humming to the my mirror I could see Joel with his brows drawn together as if he were thinking about something.  When Joel thought about something he tended to use all of his facial muscles to do it.  Ellie was just hanging out in her booster seat.  A particular sense of melancholy rode along with me. I was happy, but feeling the pangs of impermanence. The details of this trip in the car...where were we going? I can't recall....I only remember the details of those few seconds.  But I remember them so clearly.  I knew I was in a living snapshot....I had this sense that nothing was real - nothing was permanent - we were images captured but for a moment. Nothing was any more solid than the dream you wake up from in the morning.

Joel and I seemed to be on the same wavelength because he said, "Someday we'll be two mommies and two daddies driving in this car."  He couldn't say his it sounded like caw.  I smiled, clinging to that mispronounced R-sound.  Because I knew it would wasn't real and solid and something I could hold onto.  I remember I actually grabbed the door at that point - I wanted to feel something firm and hard and solid to remind myself that it was all least for the moment. 

Joel, at the age of two, grasped the concept that things were going to change...that things were, in fact, changing as we drove along that country road.  Two mommies and two daddies...mommy and daddy being his euphemisms for grown-ups.  So he understood the change of growing up...he understood he was going to get bigger and turn into an adult...but he didn't grasp the enormity of it.  He didn't grasp the hugeness of the change, or the implications of it.  He wasn't just going to get bigger, he would be reborn a thousand times over...he'd become a new person with each lost tooth, each new skill, every new discovery...and with each rebirth, there was sure to be a tiny...death.

To Joel, this enormous truth was processed in the only way his two-year-old mind could do it. He would get bigger. His sister would get bigger.  Mom and Dad would stay exactly the same because they were already big. And the four of us would forever drive along that road together in the blue Montero...Mom and Dad in the front, and Joel and his sister, all grown up and riding in their usual spots in the backseat. 

I smiled at the vision.  It was such a sweet one.  And I remember trying to imagine what they'd look like when they were all grown up. I couldn't do it.  The young woman and young man of the future were total strangers to me....their images drifted just outside of my mind's eye, blurry and remaining stubbornly unfocused.  Yet, they were as real to me as the two children in the backseat, which is to say, not very real at all. That's how I felt at the moment.

I'm feeling that way again.  As if my life and the people and things in it are made of mist.  I want to hold keep things just as they driving along the road with this new, bigger our Big Church Bus, as the kids call it.  I want us to just stay like this....but we, as we are right now, are not solid enough for me to grasp. We're not solid at all.  The only thing constant about us is our unending metamorphosis.

Joel has his first summer job as a lifeguard.  He takes on as many hours as he can...both because he is in the process of buying Ellie's old car, and because he loves being with new friends and co-workers at the pool.  He's having the time of his life.  He opted out of a recent family vacation, along with Ellie, who was at a music festival.  And the rest of us drove to South Padre, a set of parents and three children....three children who were unseen, unborn, and unbelievably absent from my life that day in the Montero. Try to hold on to that thought with any level of understanding.  It's impossible.

Joel hugged me out of the blue last night.  He's so much bigger than me, now.  He'd been at the pool all day.  He smelled like chlorine.  His arms were strong, and he squeezed me tightly.  He rested his chin on the top of my head.  I wanted to cry, but then he began rubbing his chin across the top of my head very hard (it hurt), saying that he was an expert in chin/scalp massage.  So I laughed instead, and he let go, and casually walked away.  Always walking away. 

Ellie is mostly gone nowadays, too.  She's busy going to lessons, teaching lessons, leaving for days at a time for music festivals and competitions, getting ready for college and wanting to see her friends.  She senses the instability of the moment as well, but I don't think I'm often among the concerns about the things in her life that are changing.  Which is as it should be.  But last night she came home from a friend's recital in the city.  And instead of barging through the door to hit the piano (even though it was late at night) or hit the study to get on skype with her boyfriend....she came back to me, where I sat quietly trying to cling to my life, chasing it in my mind like little balls of mercury.

"Hey," she said.

"How was the recital?"

"Good."  She sat down, picked up the nearest guitar, saw some printed tabs sitting on what used to be a meditative fountain of mine but has since been claimed by Jeff as a music stand and pick holder.  "Ooh," she said. "Dad's been playing John Frusciante."  She gave me a little sexy glance.  She easily began strumming, little delicate brows scrunched up with the effort of figuring out the tabs.  For a kid who doesn't play the guitar anymore, she plays really well.  She used to play the guitar all the time, but then she decided to do something else and that was that.  She's better at letting go than I am.  I'm a look-behind girl, and she's a look-ahead girl.  And it isn't because she's young and I'm old.  I've always been a look-behind girl.

She chatted back and forth with Jeff, who was already in bed, about this note or that and this fret or that, complaining about the tabs, which they decided weren't quite right....and plucked away at my one of my favorite Frusciante songs, The Past Recedes. Strangely appropriate.

"Sing the chorus, Mom," she said. "I can't remember how it goes."

I did. Badly.

"Ahh....and here's the part where John plays the solo..." she made some noise on the guitar and that face she makes when she's being a little bit silly.  She waved her hands around to indicate there was no way in hell she could play it....made some noises....and set the guitar down.

We talked.  For almost an hour.  I can't remember about what, none of it really mattered. What mattered is that the whirlwind had stopped for a moment, and we'd become a snapshot together.  And I clung. 

While she talked, I focused on her beautiful face.  It was the grown-up woman face that had eluded me that day in the Montero.  More beautiful than I could have imagined. 

I looked into it,searching for the face of the four-year-old.  But she was gone. Vanished.  I reached for the arm of the chair I was sitting in....solid.

"Well, I'm going to bed," she said suddenly, standing up.

"Ellie," I said.  "Thanks."

She smiled her huge smile, looked at me in a way that let me know that it had, indeed, been a gift to me....this little chat of ours. She wasn't going to deny it.  She knows my world is an earthquake at the moment....the ground constantly moving beneath my she and her brother get on with this business of growing up.

"You're welcome, Mom."

Go and be happy, I thought.  And then a scene from Kung Fu Panda II popped into my head.  I HATE it when that happens. I didn't like that movie, by the way, and slept through some of wasn't bad....I'm just not entertained by children's movies like I used to be.  Anyway, there is a scene that made me cry right there in the theater.  Because it was My Scene.  My Life. My World At The Moment. In it, Po is leaving his dad to go fight the bad guys.  And his dad, Mr. Ping, is just a hand-wringing, sniffling mess about it. 

But what if you don't come back?

Dad, I'll be back.  But first, I have to go save China.

I smiled as she walked away. 

Fine already. Go save China, Ellie.  


  1. Oh boy, there I was, all happy to see something new had been posted, and now you get me all teary eyed again! sigh - life's tough huh. My two year old has gone to spend a week with my mom: I was crying my heart out when she left, all happy to go with her bag that she had packed with a picnic all by herself. It starts too soon and it never ever stops anymore if I have to believe you (and I don't know why, but somehow I do!).

    Well, glad to see you're back - but please, write something funny next time!

    Ps your daughter is absolutely stunning!

  2. You write so beautifully and just toss your heart out there for anyone to see.

    Rare and lovely.

  3. Oh, stop making me cry!!! Very precious. I know the feeling-- I often am very aware of time passing. My favorite song when I was ten was "Dust in the Wind." I'd sing along and cry.

  4. Aw geez. Now I had to cry.... I'm sharing this on facebook. If you want me to remove it..let me know.

  5. I absolutely cried watching Kung Fu Panda II. I know what you mean, and mine has just started grade school, but I know that day is coming. I love how Froosh often makes it into your posts, not that you like him or anything, hahahaahaa. I hope you post during your vacay!

  6. So my throat hurts… I've got this pricking sensation in my eyes… and yeah, here they are… tears leaking out. And I'm surreptitiously wiping them away so the kids don't get startled (as in, Mum? Why are you crying? What's wrong? What are you reading? Mum? Mum?).

    You've laid it out, haven't you. Raw and true and stunning. Your words are STUNNING.

    I could keep writing the word STUNNING over and over and that still wouldn't capture how you've made me feel. You are an incredible writer. Thank you. And I have that feeling, the same feeling all the time. I'm always taking mental snapshots of moments, so tiny sometimes, with my kids. And I know that's all I have. These moments are so precious…and made of mist.

    Thank you for putting how I feel into words. Thank you for laying it out.

  7. Thanks everyone - especially Helena - she's an Above Average Gusher and I really like that about her. @Jade - being funny is freaking hard! Seriously. It's why I'm hardly ever funny. I'm lazy that way :). But I'll shoot for next time. I can only stand so many tear jerkers myself.

  8. Ever since the day my brother mentioned this blog to me and said, "I think you'll like two think alike", I've been reading your posts. Like a true groupie, I anxiously await a new entry. I feel like I've come to know you & your family, even though we've never met (although I did see you at Peanut Festival last year from far away). However, you've outdone yourself with this message. It hits so true to home for me that it almost hurts. Thank you for making me think and feel and love and cry. You're beyond amazing with a truly wonderful gift.

  9. Dee - you're catching up to Helena. If you were both drowning and I could only save one of you it would be a toss-up at this point. Seriously, thanks for the compliments. I feel like such a failure writing least I can blog, right? Y'all totally make my day so it's kind of a symbiotic thing we got goin'.

  10. Now that last comment was funny. Like Big Time Funny. I'm not crying now, just smiling SO hard. Yeah…if you pick Dee over me, I'll go down smiling.

    (This is me keeping my comment simple. No gushing! Or is the fact I'm commenting twice a Gush in itself? It's so hard to know…)

  11. Now why would you do this to me? Seriously, Ellie is dragging this whole "getting on with own life thing" out just to kill you isn't she? I don't know about her.
    I come to you for funny outlooks into family life. If you are trying to make me cry like a Liberal everytime I stop over, I may have to rethink Following you. I don't cry. I'm a Republican for Goodness sake!
    Just let me know when she's moving out so I can avoid your Blog that week. Honestly, I don't think my heart can take it.
    Your Friend, m.
    p.s. Now write something funny about dry grass or something!

  12. Mark, I know! I'm just dragging this whole thing out - started when she turned 16. As for you, my friend. Come out of the closet. We know you're a Liberal.

  13. Hi, I am here by way of Mark of My Simple Life. I was so touched by your post, and cried (which, if you ask Mark, isn't very hard for me to do!). As others have said, you do have a special gift for writing. And,I loved this one because I see my children growing up so quickly recently, and wish I could freeze certain moments in time with them. Thank you for sharing!!

  14. Sorry, I meant Mark of Our Simple Life!! Not the TV show.