16th birthday eve
“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.”
Your first night at home was long like a marathon of endless wonder and worry and waking every hour to try again to get this mothering thing completely right. I was 33, and up til then I’d never been very sure of anything. I’d never been particularly definitive in my opinions or even my desires. But as certain as I knew that the sky was above and the ground was below, I knew you were meant to be mine. I knew this naively, never guessing that this knowing was shrouded for many mothers. I knew you were mine and I was yours.
Let’s go back to that night in our Chicago apartment: It was April, and Chicago was having a heat wave. There was no air-conditioning and we had every window open and all the fans swirling the swelling hot air that mingled with our sleepy joy. There’s so much more I want to tell you, darling. My biggest regret is that I didn’t start penning down all these thoughts then. I wish I’d known how quickly today would get here.
We are on your fifth or sixth “life”, my sweet. We were with you when you lived as a serious scientist, collecting rocks, saving worms, making me read goodnight books that were heavy and without pictures on every creature from aardvarks to polar bears to snakes (the worst for me) and spiders (in which you were right—fascinating) to zebra sharks.
Then you turned 13 and we cleaned out all our old ways, old habits, and made room because Grandma reminded me that time was ticking and I didn’t need to fill my life cause I had you. But, that wouldn’t be always. We shook out your bedroom, scattering all the pink and glitter, letting it rearrange itself as you’d have it. We stripped the beds of old nightmares and your kingdom of must-have bedtime compadres—Miss Bunny, Mr. Rabbit, Horse, and Giraffe… oh, Giraffe! I was the one who cried. Really, it was me who needed their constant reassurance every time I opened that door to your room. I was the one who sat Giraffe smack dab in the center of the bed every morning so he could wink at me and tell me, “We’ve still got our girl. There’s no sign of any woman here. No changeling. Everything remains just as tight and tucked as the corners of this well-appointed bed for which I thank you very much.” (I’ve saved them all—Miss Bunny, Mr. Rabbit, Horse—especially Giraffe. Someday, you’ll want to see what became of them and they will want to know that you turned out okay.)
Life #3: “I’m going to be a writer,” you said and I said, “That’s no surprise.” I realize now it wasn’t the right answer. I should have done a back flip and started a Conga line while throwing confetti into the air. You told me something so true about yourself. I didn’t tell you. You told me. It was significant, like that first time you lay in your crib staring at your own hand realizing that it was yours. This was all you. There should have been balloons.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy usurped Good Night Moon. Every birthday birthed a spanking new journal. You, you, you—the new you! A real deal typewriter wedged itself in between the left over remnants of a few flash cards of the planets and the microscope you used that one day. Your bookcase now toppled over with Marvin, Guy Montag, Frodo, Jem and Scout and Achilles and Howl. Do you remember any of this? You began to crank out the beginnings of stories that were good, really good. Teachers began to whisper ideas into your tender and very absorbent spirit and you’d write and you’d write—but, only beginnings. My girl, I kept all of them. Those were the days. You wrote and you dreamt and then…
Life #4: Suddenly, all pink has been banished. You line your eyes like you're underlining your every emotion. Then you take to paper. First you draw a dragon, and then a girl, and then a tiger. It’s all pretty good. You start doing it all the time. I mention, casually, “You haven’t written anything in a while.” You shrug and I wish I'd said, “I miss all those beginnings.” That’s what I meant. Each picture feels like an ending of I don’t even know what, but something. But I know I can feel the back of your black hoodie roll its eyes at me every time you leave the room.
Remember this summer when we sank together in the dark of a movie theater in the middle of the afternoon to see La La Land? In the movie when Mia sings, “And here’s to the fools who dream/ Crazy as they may seem/ Here’s to the hearts that break/ Here’s to the mess we make”, you put your hand in mine like you used to back in the days of pink sparkly Chucks, afro puffs and butterflies, beetles and bugs.
Some days, most days, I just want to go back. It all happened so fast—from your first tooth to the braces, from your first step to your first school dance. It all happened in a snap. And how can that be?
So, my girl, I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. The world is quickly approaching like a rider who will not spare the horses. I know that it cannot sweep away any real love—and there was so much—knitting us together over the years. I know it cannot silence all our chattering stories recited in streams of sunlight and beneath speckles of stars. I know the world coming full speed ahead towards us can only charge us, but it cannot stamp us out. The patina of blessings and prayers polishing the walls, the world cannot erase. But soon, my heart heavy with the full weight of what it is to love you, I will send you out packed with all the peace we’ve gathered these sudden years. Let’s not be afraid. Let’s not stress about it.
Remember what I’ve always said since your very first day of kindergarten: “Mommy can’t go with you, but I’ll be right here when you get back.” I’ll always be here. I'm not going to be sad. We're not going to fiddle our thumbs wondering what to do. Let’s get ready. I’m so excited for you to see more of me rejoicing in you being you. What will you do with your this life? We’re entering sacred spaces filled with His blessedness. You have every single thing you’ll ever need because He will not leave you. I promise, He just won’t. Just remember all that I told you.
Still, I wish I had more time to just tell you a few more things. There are at least a million more things I could say. But the world is fast approaching. Now, go shine His Light in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Just do what He said: Love Him and love others. He goes ahead and He comes back again and again—even if the sun and the stars should burn out and this no longer remains.
It’s getting late. Come now. Let’s be going.