Sunday, June 1, 2008

Baby bird

I'll be driving to the airport in a couple of hours, to send off E with a hug and a smile. The hug I can do without a thought, the smile is always a little iffy now that her trips home last a day shorter than the fingers on one hand and she never unpacks her toilet kit. It isn't that I'm not glad for her life--I love who she is, who she's becoming, where she's headed in the world. I just wish she could do it within driving distance of my house--ok, within walking distance. And every time I say goodbye, I think, 'just five more minutes, God, please?'

There were years--years--when all I wanted from my children was 'five minutes peace' (the name of a very clever children's book the Beve once bought me for Mother's Day). Having three of them in such short order meant they swallowed up every moment of time, seemed to consider my body a chair or jungle gym or punching bag (depending on their mood), and my space their space. There was no place I went that they didn't follow--not our bed or even the shower fully clothed a time or two, as I remember (J and SK!). The Beve called them baby birds, because they always seemed to have their hungry mouths open. And the doors of their rooms were open, too, so we could chase away monsters and hear them cry in the night. But then doors began to close against me, both literally and figuratively, and now they all have lives that not only don't revolve around me, they barely include me much of the time. These kids of mine swing in and out of here like there's a revolving door, and I sit and wait for them like I'm the baby bird now with my mouth wide open waiting for whatever morsel of their lives they're willing to drop in and feed me.

In the old days sometimes they barely tolerated each other, and my job was refereeing as much as anything. But now when E comes home, she and SK can talk without opening their mouths, it seems to me. With a look and a nod, they're both laughing, SK's inimitable high soprano laugh, E's deep alto chuckle, and bewildered and delighted at once, I watch them--so alike, so different--be sisters together, be friends. They've built something they will always have, something I have with my sisters--this ground-up lifelong knowing they share. Then J walks in and the teasing wit flies around the room. E and J, once locked in mortal combat--or so it always appeared to their mother--now can lock the world out. Their shared love of sports and humor makes them natural friends, and, with the Beve leading the charge, their zinging quips leap back and forth at laser speed. SK and I look at each other and shake our heads. They are something else when they get together. E really is the tie that binds...I know SK feels it, but she and J--they're finding their own path together. Families are like this, it's not always a perfect blend. But it works, one way or another.

But now she flies off again. And we let her go. Try not to take it personally that she doesn't mind leaving, that she might think of this as home, but doesn't want to live here. When we let her off at the airport, with the announcer blaring, "No vehicles must be parked or left unattended," at us while we say goodbye, I'll try not to hang on too tightly. Try not to let my tears fall on her shirt. I'll send her back into her life, back into her adulthood, with joy. Glad that she is who she is, blessed by her presence, blessed by the gift of her life, all her life. And tomorrow, and the next day and the one after that...as I listen for a particular ring on my cell phone, I'll still be that baby bird, waiting for a morsel of her life.

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