These are my dear parents (plus farm animal). He’s 92 , she’s 93. They’ve been married 66 years. When the last of us was born (that would be me), they had six kids under the age of eight, including two sets of twins. I’m pretty sure that’s why my Dad recently said to me, “Trust me, you’re gonna have a great time with the kids gone.”
SHOES: Can I toss these papers? They’re clogging our storage space.
BOOTS: Those are my high school term papers.
SHOES: And therefore it’s time to let them go.
BOOTS: I’m letting go of gluten. I’m letting go of snowboarding. I’m letting go of liquor that’s brown. I am NOT letting go of my high school term papers. They’re heirlooms.
SHOES: Okay. But just take a quick look at the first page of your 1974 heirloom entitled “Franklin Delano ‘Rooservelt’s’ Lend Lease Act”…
BOOTS: ….Good God. What was I on?
SHOES: Do you really want the kids reading this stuff?
BOOTS: Incinerate at will.
In 2007, we came up with a 6 year plan and announced it blithely to anyone who would listen:
“When Eliot graduates from high school, we’re leaving LA.”
I’m not sure anyone believed us. The kids didn’t believe us. I’m not sure we believed us. It seemed impossibly far away. So easy to say.
But days and seasons passed and the six year plan became the 5 year plan, then then 4… And if you say something for long enough, the whimsical becomes the inexorable.
As last May approached, Eliot became increasingly horrified at the thought of us decamping to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance.
So we turned it into a six-and-a-half year plan. “Fine” I said, relenting. “We’ll have one more Christmas at home and then, when the jasmine blooms and the sycamores green up in the canyon, we’re gone.”
Here’s what I saw driving into our canyon today:
Jasmine. Almost blooming.
I was on a plane today, waiting in line to use the lavatory, and recalled a flight in 1999 when I stood in a similar line with my youngest son, Eliot, then 6. A gifted conversationalist, eager to engage (see above), he tapped the guy in front of him and said “Hello”. The guy turned, frowning, and nodded.
Determined to go deeper, Eliot tapped him again. The man turned again, clearly annoyed. Eliot looked up at him and cheerfully asked, “So, are you going to pee or poop?”
When the boys were small enough for me to worry about but big enough to carry a backpack, letting them go always set off a tiny tsunami of fear.
I attached a little something to their packs to make me feel better. On the front, all the many ways we could be contacted in case of emergency…
And taped on the back…
They seem like historical records to me now, plastic fragments of a time from which nothing remains. Our numbers have changed. The offices are closed. The pager ditched. Pay phones for those quarters? Long gone.
The only things left are the inconsistent wave of worry and the small buoy of hope that, if the dreaded comes to pass, some stranger might see my boy in his distress, and care for me.
So you’ve probably gone on to other things but I’ve continued to puzzle over whether or not to change our phone message. I realized that simply avoiding the issue was not a satisfactory resolution to the dilemma.
What did it mean that I didn’t want to delete the old message? Did I fear that if I erased the message, something more, something deep and precious, would be obliterated too? Was I just avoiding pain the pain of loss? Was I just being a wimp?
And what if I was? Is that wrong?
The way I see it, this is how life works.
One minute you’re sunning yourself on a warm, wooden dock.
The next, you run your bike into a tree.
There’s no need to make it hurt any more than it already does.
So in the end, I took Eliot’s advice and, just for me, kept the message as it is.
Because it made me less sad.
That’s her, clipping into her cross country skis after the weekend storm with her beloved Welsh Cocker, Star, at her heels. It was one of the two outings she made that day between church, whipping up cole slaw with hearts of something, stoking an uncooperative fire and cooing over her crush, Rafa Nadal. She’ll probably hate that I’m writing this about her but that’s too bad. She’s an incredible woman and I’ve been blessed to have her as my mother-in-law for (yikes) twenty-seven years.
How old is she? She wouldn’t care if I told you, but all I’ll say is…
We should all be so young.