It’s 46 degrees outside this morning, and my son has dressed himself for school in his normal chosen attire~ athletic shorts and a t-shirt. As I watch him sitting on the floor in his skimpy outfit tying his shoes, I make my routine protest: “Ezra, it’s cold outside now. It’s not Summer anymore. You have to dress warmly. Put on some pants and a long-sleeve shirt please.”
Ezra (8) looks up at me, makes direct eye contact, and says with strong, clear assertion: “Mom~ this is MY body, and my choice of how to dress it. When I run around outside I heat up. If I get cold then I will learn my lesson that way, ok? Please don’t be so controlling of me.”
What can I say to such well-reasoned sensibility and self-assured clarity? I look at him, humbled, and say: “Ok. Well at least put on a sweatshirt?” He nods compliantly, finishes tying his shoes, and jumps up to go grab his sweatshirt. So completely himself.
Meanwhile, Arayla (11.5) comes out of her bedroom brushing her long honey hair. We french-braided it last night while it was wet, so today it would have some wave. She’s frowning now, and says to me, sadly: “It’s all frizzy though, look…” I head to the sink, get my fingers wet, saying: “It looks beautiful! Let’s just run a little water through it.” As I run my fingers through her hair, I look down into her shining blue eyes… and then, oh no: “Are you wearing mascara Love? You know you can’t wear make-up to school.”
“Mom~ I’m NOT.” She attempts to mask a guilty smile, quickly turning her head away and scooting out of reach, disappearing into her room. I call after her: “Take it off please! It’s ok on weekends… but not to school.”
I sigh and think to myself~ really, what’s the harm with a little mascara?~ as I return to the task of making breakfast and packing their lunches. Sometimes I feel like I’m stewarding these ancient, wise, self-respecting souls temporarily housed in children’s bodies~ and all of us feel the ridiculousness of me telling them what to do and how to do it.
Such an interesting phase~ each of them stretching into new versions of their amazing selves, perfectly outgrowing my reach, discovering what calls them to independence and unique expression, while needing my ongoing containment, my vigilant tracking, my loving guidance as much as ever.
There’s a wondrous way in parenting we get to lean into the stretch, over and over again over the years~ through all the transitions. We get to feel the stretch pull on our hearts and minds, as we open wider to let life change us all, grow us all up more, always insisting we loosen the reigns without neglecting the road.
Mundane moments with my kids are my heart’s most treasured mirror~ where I get to see what’s current, what’s real, what’s presently alive in our living. Sometimes the mirror is painful and hard to receive, sometimes touchingly poignant and rich with love. Always it holds the key to evolution and the recipe for gratitude.
As we approach the kids bedtime, I’m sitting on the couch paying bills, yelling the typical pre-bedtime requests out into the space, like “Kids~ brush your teeth!” and “Did you clear your plates yet?…”
Ezra (newly 8) whizzes by me at one point, kisses me on the cheek, and says in his oh-so-charming way: “I’d really like to cuddle with you tonight Mom.”
I pull him in close for a second, smooch him on the neck, and tease him: “You’d better wanna cuddle with me!” And then I repeat, sternly: “Go brush your teeth, get in your bed and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”
He zooms off, I pay one more bill, and after a couple of minutes lift myself from the couch to head into his room.
He’s waiting for me in his bed in the dark, squirming like a wild creature under his covers.
I can feel his smile bursting in anticipation even with his face hidden under the sheets.
I grab his little boy body with tickling hands, meeting his predictably joyous squeals of protest: “No Mama, no!” And then: “Tickle me MORE Mama! More!” This boy never gets enough of deep physical contact, of play, of feeling his own aliveness; my little lion child, my young warrior, my beloved sunshine.
Then I say: “Move over, Baby. Let me in.” And I lie down next to him in his little bed like I always do, listening to him taking some deep breaths to settle himself into our cuddle.
Shifting into a serious tone, he says soberly: “There are some things I want to talk to you about, Mom.” I attune to his sobriety, and say quietly: “Oh yeah, Ezra? Like what?”
He sighs: “Well, for starters? Do you think I’ll ever stop feeling so sad and mad about you and Papa being divorced?”
My heart gulps a bit, like it always does when he expresses his transparent grief about our divorce, which happened when Ezra was 18 months old, too little to consciously remember us ever being together. I gather him close to me then, instinctively to comfort him, and just whisper: “Oh Love, I’m so sorry.”
He goes on, his voice full of edge and complaint: “Most ALL of my friends get to have both of their parents together. They just have ONE home, with BOTH parents! Their parents WANT to be married. It’s not fair, Mom. I feel so jealous. I feel so angry that I don’t get to have parents who are married. I feel sad about it so much, and I wish you and Papa could still be together.”
I nod, affirming him, holding him in the dark: “Yes,” I say. “Yes, that feels so sad to you, doesn’t it. And makes you feel mad and jealous of your friends with married parents. That makes so much sense that you would want Papa and I to be together still; both of your parents who love you; to all be a family in one home together. I hear you, Baby. And I’m so sorry you don’t get to have that. I really wanted you and Arayla to get to have parents who stayed together in a beautiful marriage. That just didn’t end up being what was true for your Papa and me. We always have to follow the truth in life; we have to follow the truth of our hearts, more than whatever we wish the truth would be.”
He nods his head with understanding. We’ve visited this topic many times before. He breathes loudly, letting the grief move through him.
Then he rolls onto his side, propping himself up on one elbow, facing me, and says: “You know what, Mom?” I kiss the tip of his nose, only inches from my face, and say: “What?”
He says: “Remember when you guys were telling me your wishes for me on my birthday?”
I nod: “Yes?” He continues: “And Papa was wishing for me that I might find even more peace about the things that make me sad and mad in life, like when I don’t get my way?”
I say: “Yes, I remember.” He continues: “Well, maybe you guys being divorced is just one of those things for me, Mom? Something to teach me about finding more peace.”
My heart explodes a little, bursting open with pride and awe. I hug him tight, and say: “You are so wise, Ezra Star. Such an amazing and wise-hearted boy. I love you SO much. Do you know that? Do you know how much I love you?”
He lies back down onto his back, with his arms up over his head, and sighs, deeply, somberly, saying tenderly: “Mostly I know. But sometimes I make you feel so frustrated and mad at me.”
I nod slowly, and affirm: “Yes, that’s true. We get so frustrated and mad at each other sometimes. But that has nothing to do with how much I love you. Even when I’m super mad at you, I never stop loving you with all my heart. You know that, right?”
He nods, but seems uncertain. I say strongly: “Ezra there is nothing you could ever do to make me not love you. It’s just impossible. I really want you to get that.”
Challenging me, he says: “Well, I can think of something.”
I maintain my stance of certainty: “Nope. Name just one thing you think could ever make me not love you. Just one.”
Quietly, he turns his head toward me, and says simply, point-blank: “I could die.”
Knife in my heart. Without missing a beat, I say: “Well, first of all? You’d better not.” He laughs a little. I continue: “Second of all? You think your dying would make me love you any less? No way! I would be heartbroken and devastated, yes. And probably mad, too, at Life for going that way. Because of how much I love you. But Ezra not even death could change my love for you. My love for you is eternal.”
We are silent together. Then I say: “Do you know what eternal means?” He nods: “It means Forever?” I say: “Yes. Forever and always.”
Thoughtfully, he considers: “That would be terrible for you if I died. But~ sometimes kids die before their parents, you know, Mama.”
I’m quiet for a long moment. And then I say: “Yes, I know. We even know some children who have died, don’t we?” There’s a timeless pause, then; we are just lying there, holding each other.
Then he says, as though in fresh revelation: “But if I don’t die before you, Mom, then I have to live with YOU dying! That makes me scared to think of that. I don’t want you to ever die Mom.” His voice is cracking a bit with emotion.
I gather him closer in my arms, and say: “Of course we don’t want each other to die. It’s because of how much love there is. I’ll tell you what, my love~ you do your very best to not die before me, ok? And I’ll do my very best to not die until I’m super old, and you’re old too, and by then we’ll both feel ready for it. We can’t promise it will go that way, because we can’t ever know what life has in store. But that’s my true wish for us, ok?”
He squeezes me tight, and buries his face close in to my chest, so he’s barely able to breathe. I kiss his face, once, twice. Then I breathe him in, deeply, until my lungs are full of him, bursting in this tremendous beauty that he is, this love we share.
I think to myself with wry humor: just another ordinary bedtime cuddle.
Then I say: “Can I please sing to you now?” And he says: “Yes. ‘Gran Espiritu.’ The Spanish one. About healing the people.” And I say: “Yes, my love.”
And he turns his back to me in the bed, so I can spoon him, and begin singing into his precious ear.
One more bedtime conversation, one more cuddle, one more chance to speak to grief and fear and the unspeakable immensity of our love. One more moment~ where the vulnerability of human attachment collides with the eternality of the Love we are. One more moment. One more.