Friday, July 7, 2023

Look, Ma! No Hands!

Twenty-two years ago, I sat on the purple velvet couch in our sweet apartment in Gardiner--the one with the high ceilings, tall windows, and claw-foot tub--with a hot, sticky, diaper-clad baby glued to my own hot, stick body and a fan blowing directly at us in our second-floor apartment in with all those south- and west-facing windows. It was July and it was hot, and that hot, sticky baby didn't want to be anywhere but glued to me. 

I'm certain that in that moment, I believed I was living my permanent reality--that I'd been glued to a hot, sticky baby since the beginning of time and I would be glued to a hot, sticky baby for all of eternity. At a time when he wouldn't even let me lay him down of his blanket on the floor (where surely it was cooler than it was attached to me), I couldn't imagine that one day he would walk and talk and ride a bike. Perhaps, if pressed, I could have acknowledged intellectually that yes, one day this little ball of sweat and misery would one day graduate college. But viscerally? No. We were as we always were and always would be, eking scant relief from an oscillating fan. I had no way of knowing that every hot, sticky day he was imperceptibly but inexorably moving away from me.

And then that day passed, and the next, and the next, and, more than 8,000 days later the inconceivable (in that moment) happened: the baby had become a man. His bald head had grown blond hair. His blue eyes stayed blue. He had learned to walk and talk and ride a bike. He had gone to school and learned to drive and traveled around Europe on his own. On the day after his twenty-second birthday, he walked across a stage and accepted his college diploma.

I brought a box of tissues with me to graduation, expecting (after a weepy moment at baccalaureate the previous day) to be a blubbering mess. But as it turned out I felt no sadness or nostalgia, but only pure joy and pride and amazement. Perhaps it was that the college had pulled out all the stops to make it a lively, joyous occasion (to the extent of ensuring--somehow; I'm certain they have the resources to do it--that the rain poured only during the night and that both baccalaureate and graduation took place in spectacular sunshine). Perhaps I was distracted by the logistics of orchestrating a large and varied group of people who had come out to celebrate with us. Perhaps any sadness I might have felt was tempered by the mountain of his personal possessions that we'd moved out of his dorm room and back into our house over the previous days.

Whatever it was that brought me that sense of peace and rightness, as he made his way among his cap-and-gown-clad peers, I knew that those long days over twenty-two short years had led exactly to where they were supposed to. I couldn't have been happier, and I didn't use a single tissue.

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

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