Saturday, March 17, 2012

A grown and jaded child

My son asked the other day, when I became an adult.  Since then I've become obsessed with that question.  The effort to name the particular moment in which I became an adult has been bogged down in the thousands of moments in which I thought I had become an adult only to be greeted with a healthy dose of  humility.

I remember being about eight years old and feeling certain I'd reached adulthood.  I was walking from my second grade classroom to the school library.  How grown up I felt as my shoes clicked and echoed like the high heals of Mrs. Murphy at the head of the line.   I remember standing at the top of the hill that over looked the school playground with my hair blowing in the wind, imagining the great woman I would become one day.  Closing my eyes I felt strong, and bold.  I felt as though youth itself were the only burden I had left to bear.  In the score of years since, I've come to wonder if I will ever live up to the expectations of that child and I must say that the youth spent since echoes in my mind and heart…

I remember being fifteen, a modern day Juliet whose father simply didn’t appreciate the beauty of a brown eyed boy with long hair and Lennon style glasses.  How passionate and adult our love felt as we splashed in the waves off the beach downtown, like children, laughing in the fading sunlight.  At night we walked the train tracks like rebels into the hidden places of the city and in my mind, we were another love story for the ages.  With naivety, I believed that I, specifically I - the woman I had dreamed of as a child, was most certainly meant for this enveloping, crushing, drowning all consuming kind of love.  And it didn't matter that my parents simply didn’t understand. 

In the months that followed, I eventually found my big, old, grown-up self, shaking and crying in the arms of my mother when he left.  She had found me, sobbing, damp and naked, in an empty bathtub.  She wrapped me in a towel, like a little baby, and told me to stand tall.  “There is more to life than this,” she told me as she raised my chin with her hand so my eyes would meet hers, just as she had done a dozen times when I had skinned my knees or gotten paper cuts as a young girl.  The hot burn of first love lost is not easy to see past.  Her advice seemed to taunt me, and my grown up love, and the nature of it’s loss, but I stood.  I took her advice and I stepped toward my life.

After a while I relearned how to be content with sixteen for the moment.  I met my best friends, Gail and Jacquie, and together we found new ways to be grown up.  We skipped classes and we danced by midnight bonfires.  We redefined loyalty and friendship, we learned how to be confident, we tried to be sexy.  We smoked Camel Wides and defied every authority figure.  We stood on street corners downtown and flaunted our oh, so, very grown-up bodies, as the boys drove by flaunting their oh, so, very grown-up cars. 

Slightly hardened, I learned quickly that love as a teen, is not so elusive as my fairy tale had once led me to believe.  I learned to  love the computer geek, the baseball player, the best friend, the future army engineer.  I loved them desperately, but in a separate place. Over there.  Like a grown and jaded woman, I never again allowed myself to completely crumble for some one else.  

Years slipped by and I married a small town boy who eventually found some way through the mazes I had built to the depths of my heart.  I later bore my own sons and I named them for their father and grandfathers.  I found God.  I buried loved ones.  And still, through all of this, I have never felt as though I were grown.  The shadow of the woman I'd once imagined myself to be, has always remained just out of reach.

My eldest son starts third grade next fall.  Decades gone are gone from my life, yet I still feel five and fifteen and twenty five all at once in my mind.  When the wind blows, I still imagine a time when possibility was boundless, when youth alone was my burden.  If I let myself slip into nostalgia I am ten, falling from atop the family swing set, breathless I look to the sky through cherry blossoms and wish I were older. 

From the fog of these memories, my mind snaps to today, where it is 3:30 in the afternoon and I could easily and forever contemplate the moments that made me into the woman I am.  It won’t be long until my husband comes home, with my two hungry brown eyed boys, and still I cannot say when the moment was that I became an adult.

I know that I am not that woman I once imagined, far from it in fact.  But I think that maybe, underneath it all, I am still the girl who imagined her.  When I remember the moment that my firstborn looked around at his world in the minutes after his birth, I remember seeing him for who he was.  I see him now, eight and fearless, yet the same exact same person he was in his first moments, and I hope to God that as his mother I can meet but one goal in my life, and that is to help him stay him.

As I fall asleep each night, it is with a breathless whisper I pray that when my sons are twenty five and fifty and a hundred and one, they are able to feel in their heart as though they are the same men that they are today.

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