There is such enormous contrast in the stages of child-rearing I am currently experiencing.
Abe and Daisy are both in high school this year. Abe especially seems, quite suddenly, so close to adulthood. Such an enormous change in independence has accompanied getting a driver’s license and a job. It’s no longer, “We need to get Abe here”, or “which friend’s parent should I call about car-pooling there?”. It’s just . . . Abe heading out the door shouting that he’s off to biking practices 45 minutes away or leaving for work for the rest of the evening. It’s gratifying of course. This is how it should be. Somehow we’ve created this person who is beginning to navigate wider and wider stretches of the world on his own. I can just almost see that he’ll do it. He’ll take on a mission and college, finances and a career, mortgages and car- insurance, church callings and . . . marriage and children.
Sometimes I feel so lucky that at the same time as I am encountering these unknown stages, new beginnings, and overwhelming endings; I am still cuddling tiny babies and tripping over toddlers as I make dinner. Other times I feel panic that I have only gotten one child anywhere near independence. Certainly it can’t possibly be managed eight more times! It’s impossible! I’ll never do it!
It isn’t just the stages and ages that are so highly contrasting, but emotions and thoughts that fluctuate so wildly and unpredictably that I can never be sure if I’m the most blessed or most cursed person in all of existence! (Oh all right. Cursed was a little extreme . But sometimes it does feel a fearfully long road ahead. And then other times . . . one that will pass terrifyingly too fast.)
The other day my mom emailed me these two excerpts from letters my dad had written to my oldest brother Mark (who was 19-21 at the time and serving a two year mission for our church in Germany).
This first one was written several weeks before my second birthday:
Nan Allison is calling something downstairs that I can’t quite translate. She is becoming quite the expert puzzle worker. Last night about eleven I went down, and she was sitting there in the middle of the kitchen table in nothing but her diapers, diligently working away on something. Sharon and I were conferring on something when all of the sudden Nan gave a loud shout, “Yaaaahhh!” and began clapping her hands. She had put an entire puzzle, about fifteen pieces, of Santa Claus together all on her own in about three or four minutes, never having seen it before. Sharon had just given it to her to keep her out of mischief for a while. Really a remarkable little kid and probably the biggest character in the family. Always calls me Gordon, and spends about half her time speaking to us in this faked, high, squeaky voice that sounds like an old witch.
And this one that I love the very most was written about a year earlier:
Your sister Nan Allison is now a sophisticated one-year-old (has been for more than a month, in fact), with eyes the color of blue flashbulbs and blond hair that looks if it had been shampooed in strawberry soda pop. And spry! Definitely fulfilling the “prophecy” made at her christening with respect to athletic ability. None of our multitudinous clan, with the possible exception of Kit (who has now, I’m happy to say, resumed her ballet) has been as quick and agile. Once she decided to walk, about the time of her birthday, there were those few tentative steps between the smiling and laughter, the outstretched arms, and then she simply took up walking. Crawling no longer even existed. Not only that, but the only times I have ever seen her fall down are those occasions when some huge, cumbersome behemoth (a three-year-old sister the likes of Shiner, for example) accidentally bumps her off balance backwards. She learned to lower herself from the perilous height of our bed, from the beginning, without the the slightest mishap, and she goes down the carpeted stairs from my loft like something you have literally never seen. Impossible to describe without much careful observation and careful choice of words, but she glides down backwards working one knee to the side like a flipper, uses her belly as a shock absorber in a rapid, precision glide that would make any snake or otter writhe with envy. Comes to the bottom of the stairs periodically now and calls me lustily, “Aaaaaa-ah!” And of course, no matter what the preoccupation – paper grading, lesson preparation, typewriter plucking, whatever – I am irresistibly compelled to answer, to open the door and look down those steep terraces of dark green carpet into the eyes of almost uncanny blue. “Hi,” I say, dragging the word out and begin showering her with ludicrous terms of fatherly endearment, but heartfelt no matter how foolish to the ears of the world. And then we just look at each other, brows raised, each expression one of waiting, absorption, empathically tuned to the other. What are we saying? Whatever it may be it is far more than words.
I loved reading those tiny specks of my dad’s writing about me. They were like little gifts – half from time-past, but half . . . floating down to me from where my dad is now. So many thoughts and feelings settled on me as I read those two small paragraphs.
*Wondering over this tiny person who was . . . me . . . but a me that I have no recollection ever having been. Wanting to step back in time and watch those interactions between toddler me and my dad.
*Feeling so assured of my dad’s love for me. I’ve mentioned before that the emotions and thoughts that have stirred themselves all around me since my dad’s passing are just . . . so much more complex than I’d ever known they might be. So much more complicated than just “missing”. One of those things has been a battle with this strange panic that . . . maybe my dad doesn’t really care about me anymore. Now, I know, I know. Don’t go reassuring me. I know it’s crazy. I know that he of course does; but . . . it’s hard to feel that he does. When he was HERE, well . . . I got to bask in it regularly. As a 39-year-old, he adored me in the same way that he spoke of that one-year-old me at the bottom of the stairs. There was never any questioning it when he was here because it simply was. His love and concern and adoration was just present – a reality so certain that it never occurred to me that it might not exist. But with his departure, all kinds of before-unknown insecurities began plaguing my mind. Maybe he was involved in such grand things now that I was small in comparison. Maybe from his lofty sphere he could now see what a bumbling weakling I am and how miserably I fail at so many things. I don’t believe that. But I have ached for the easy, unthinking, constancy of his love. It’s become a metaphor for me of course. I’m sure it must be the same with our Heavenly Father. When we lived with him before this earth, that love was so present and so certain that it never occurred to us to think, “He might have more important concerns than me. He must be disappointed in me." And yet . . . put a veil between us and our father and we are often prone to those untrue doubts about his devotion to us. I seem to have the same struggle with a veil being stuck between me and my earthly dad who has always been my symbol of my heavenly one.
But! Reading him talk about me – hearing his voice in those words – reassured me like little else has that he DOES love me. I’m his precious beloved daughter. How could I think he could ever feel anything otherwise? “And of course, no matter what the preoccupation – paper grading, lesson preparation, typewriter plucking, whatever – I am irresistibly compelled to answer, to open the door and look down those steep terraces of dark green carpet into the eyes of almost uncanny blue. “Hi,” I say, dragging the word out and begin showering her with ludicrous terms of fatherly endearment, but heartfelt no matter how foolish to the ears of the world. And then we just look at each other, brows raised, each expression one of waiting, absorption, empathically tuned to the other. What are we saying? Whatever it may be it is far more than words.”
*Also it was simply fascinating, comforting, I don’t know . . . thinking of my parents where I am now – with children at such different stages and in such different places. An oldest son already graduated and venturing off into the world. A toddler still at home (and another baby soon to follow even!). And somehow they did it. They managed to get all eleven of us prepared to navigate life with confidence.
*And of course I’d be lying if I didn’t feel a touch of . . . wistfulness because . . . it’s not impossible . . . we will raise them all and see them all through their struggles to get there . . . hooray. But . . . that means . . . it will happen . . . we will get them there . . . they will move beyond these stages . . . weep.
Anyway, a lot of rambling for one night. Mike’s working late, and I’m off to turn off extra lights, check on sleeping kids, do some reading, and get to bed. (To a backdrop of crickets and occasional car sounds. . . . Our AC went out today so all windows are open [and I’m dreading the forecast of still heavy-summer heat ahead!])