Last night, I covered the garden for the first time. Col was already sleeping when Rose and I ghosted through the yard with her blinking piggie flashlight. We nervously anticipated skunks around every corner (particularly the family of 3 who likes to mop up in the chicken yard, after hours) while draping sheets over the tomato, cucumber and basil plants. This is really it; fall is here, I thought as the cold night seeped under my bathrobe. But really I’ve been thinking that every week or so for the past month.
Because that’s how the seasons go. One day there’s a new streak of yellow in the cottonwood tree out front and the hollyhocks have all become rattly seed heads and it’s certain: this is really it; fall is here. But the truth is that fall is a long series of nudges and leanings and ripenings and witherings, each day the season tipping more towards itself.
The kids too, are leaning towards something new. I’m trying to stay curious about these changes, instead of, say, drunk, which is also appealing. Even at just 2 days/week, Col’s new public school is stirring his emotional pot. I wish I could sit down with Col over a cup of coffee and have a good, girlfriend-y chat about his latest fears and concerns. Maybe we could break things down, work out some strategies.
But it all looks a lot clumsier. It’s looks something like Col being at the edge of a river wanting to cross, but the snapping alligators and swift current are intimidating. So he’s clinging to the shore and trying to push away from it. Which, duh, is how we all grow and hatch into something new.
I’ve been reminiscing lately, as I’m snuggling with Col in bed, about how when he was in the NICU our best time together was spent cuddling, skin to skin. Once a day the nurses would allow his floppy doll-baby body to be ferried from his incubator onto my chest. Tubes and wires sprawled like octopus tentacles, while my hand—just one—cinched around his back, securing him to me. My body heat regulated his temperature perfectly. His breathing would slow and all his vitals would fall into place. It was all I could give him (besides pumping milk), and it was simple.
Now, nothing feels simple. I find myself wanting to protect Col, to slay the alligators and carry him across the river myself. I also find myself wondering how many of those alligators I’ve put there, like when I say unhelpful things to him like, “a 6-year old should be able to brush teeth/get dressed/put away clothes without a fuss.”
My friend Sue recently said, “remember when you could fix everything with a hug?” I can. I can also remember, though barely, when you could guide a squalling face onto your nipple and a calm hush would instantly orbit the planet of mother and child.
Meanwhile, Rose has been tremendously kind and cheerful. She puked twice yesterday morning and then spent the next hour singing to a plastic turtle in the bath. “Come listen to me sing,” she called out to me and when I came into the bathroom she said, “I’m actually holding my butt now.”
Just this morning the kids were in bed with me and Col was grousing about how his morning chore was harder than Rose’s. “How ’bout we can switch, Coley? I’ll do yours and you do mine,” Rose offered.
Col: (scowly grimace)
Rose: Oh-kaaay. How about I’ll do mine and yours?
Col: No! I get to do one of them.
I keep coming back to the word trust, which feels sort of like lying skin-to-skin with my babies. It’s also this notion that I don’t know what’s on the other side of that river, or what it’ll take to cross it, but there’s this knowing, this trust, that somehow it’ll be okay.
I think about the cottonwood tree, and how it trusts the process of ripening and then withering, of transformation. Which sounds a little like bad poetry, but also a lot like life.
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