a time to every purpose under heaven

IMG_3628My baby.  Cruising the Yard since 1993.

I have an unusually clear memory of window shopping, back when I was pregnant with my second son and pushing my firstborn around in the stroller. I remember seeing tiny infant t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Future Member of the Class of 20??”  Which made me laugh. Babies being born to graduate in the next millennium!  From there I did the math in my head, and came up with the unfathomable notion that my soon-to-be second born child might finish college and be launched into adulthood in the year 2015, two-plus decades hence. What a hoot!

Well, yes.  Except that we seem to have magically fast-forwarded to that farfetched date.  And here I am, texting that baby of mine, reminding him to stop by the Alumni Office’s Senior Desk to pick up his full allotment of tickets for his upcoming commencement events and activities. Which is bearing down on us like a freight train, as May speeds by.

Somehow, some way, that tiny little fellow of mine is about to graduate from college.

How did we get here, so soon? At the speed of light, and all in good time, simultaneously? How is this possible?

We all know it instinctively, this universal truth of motherhood. It goes without saying—and yet, I find myself alerting parents of babies and toddlers, when I see them in the grocery line, at the library, pushing strollers or chasing tricycles: “The baby hours crawl by,” I tell them in my sage older mother voice, “But trust me, the years will fly.”

The times when I would give anything for my two boys to pleeeease, just go to sleep, and let me have a quiet corner of the day to myself—well, those memories are so far in my rear mirror, I can barely retrieve them. Recollections of cranky towheads who sobbed when I cut the muffin in half, or fussbudgets in my grocery cart, demanding items I wouldn’t buy, or infants in front-packs, deciding that the time to have an explosive diaper situation was when I was furthest from home and least well stocked with clean-up options—those flashbacks only bubble up when I come upon a young parent in a similar situation. Put a mother with a colicky newborn ahead of me in the checkout line, and watch me go into my “soothe the baby” sway, as if no time had passed. It’s a vestigial motion, a remnant of signals and synapses I didn’t know I could still respond to.

IMG_3632Memories of days gone by, when he was a small boy and she was a kitten…

Oh, it’s been a long, long time. The babies I cuddled grew long and lanky, their voices changed, their blonde hair grew browner, their soft cheeks went stubbly. And along the way, my parenting requirements shifted from kissing boo-boos to…well, what exactly, these days? What do they need from me?

IMG_4839They barely even need me for moving.  There’s an app for everything, these days.

Precious little, that’s the truth. They like my cooking, they extol me as the family parallel parking champ, they appreciate it when I suggest we meet for lunch and I pull out my credit card on their behalves. Sometimes they need to borrow a car, or could use some help moving in or out of wherever they might be, but honestly, even that’s light lifting, given that their requests for favors are so few and far between. I haven’t even been able to offload the boxes of mismatched kitchenware labeled, “Someone’s future apartment” that I started packing up years ago. They’re a pretty self-reliant duo, so far.

IMG_4949I remember this moment vividly.  We were having breakfast at an outdoor cafe before haircuts.  My younger son always had better success in the barber’s chair if he had a something to read.  So the two of them went across the street to the newsstand, to purchase the latest issue of Mad magazine.  I snapped this shot as they crossed the street on their way back.  I remember imagining them as the teens they would soon be, that they were becoming, right before my eyes.

* * * * *

Am I sad that my babies are all grown up? The answer is an unqualified no. I love the young men my sons are turning into.  And I don’t regret the passage of time, for them or for me. Each phase, each era, happened when it was meant to happen. I look at mothers and babies in the grocery checkout line now, and I wonder how I did it.  Was that really me? The me I am now knows that I wouldn’t last a day on 24/7 fussy baby duty, or angry toddler duty, or shouting match homework duty. I definitely don’t have the wherewithal to be The Mom who Calls to Check the Plan, the Mom who Asks if the Parents Will Be There, The Mom Who Nudges About SAT Practice Tests and Common App Essays.  It was exhausting, so much of it.  And I need more sleep now than I did back in those anxious days.  I did it when it needed doing, and truth be told,  I’m relieved that the hard parts are over.

I also know, sure as sunshine, that I haven’t been lying to those new mothers. Despite those please-get-us-closer-to-bedtime toddler walks around the neighborhood after dinner, despite the mind-numbingly boring games of Candyland and Go Fish, despite the endless times when adult conversation was made impossible by the constant refrain of Look At Me, Look At Me, Look At ME! Those years did, in fact, flash by—whole gestational phases, quick as minutes, just when it felt like the minute hand was stuck.

I also know there was more to it than the hard parts.  I get reminders nearly daily, when I come upon ephemera from my kids’ childhood days.  I open a drawer to find shopping lists from days gone by, and I smile.  I pull out an extra blanket from the linen closet and find toddler art, and I grin.  There was wonder and delight in being the mother of my boys when they were young, when the world was new to them, when I got to see it through their eyes.  There was the complete magic, back when one was figuring out how to talk, new words bubbling up every day, while the other was learning to read, pouring over books, sounding out syllables.  It was an honor to be the custodian of those triumphs, to support those amazing feats.  I remember thinking that I hadn’t done anything anywhere near so impressive as what my toddler and preschooler were doing, at that moment, since, well, I couldn’t remember when.  Still can’t.

IMG_0296I find my kids’ art at every turn. And I’m keeping their favorite books for the next generation.

We made it through the all-consuming parts, and the frustrating parts, and the sketchy bad-decision-making parts. The junior high hide-the-alcohol-in-the-Gatorade bottles parties, the high school graduation road-trip to the abandoned condo (where the thing I should have worried about wasn’t even on my radar, that being kids driving country roads in the dark and hitting moose!), the  trips to the emergency room. As I noted to my college classmates in my last reunion report, it seemed like just nanosecond had passed, when our older son evolved from that risk-taking man-child into the uber-responsible head bartender at my sweetie’s last college reunion. How did we get here so fast? I have no idea, but I sure am glad to be here.

IMG_5067I needn’t have texted.  He got ’em. Thank you, my fine young man.

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The benefits of the Go Slow program

IMG_4385Look high, look low, and see what you can find. For instance, in this gate that I’ve been passing through for over three decades, there’s a pilgrim hat.  Never, ever noticed that before!

Baby steps. That’s my speed these days. I crutch around my neighborhood, going at a pace that makes me feel obliged to pull over for, well, pretty much anyone whose footfalls I hear coming up behind me.   Whenever I have a destination in mind and a time frame to maintain, I calculate how long it used to take, and I double the expected minutes required to get from here to there.  Seems prudent.

IMG_4493I’ve admired Dali’s window boxes for years, but never stopped to see the lace, the curlicues.

 

It’s how I roll, these days.  But it’s not a new normal—it’s my rehab normal, which is shifting, day by day. I’ve already picked up the pace considerably from my first double-crutch-bound outing, down to the turnaround of our little dead end. As I gingerly made my way back up the street, I couldn’t help but realize that the last time I’d meandered in that direction, just for the sake of meandering, was at least fifteen years ago. Those days, I would have been accompanied by one or both of my then small boys, for splashing through puddles in springtime or collecting locust tree pods in the fall, or to take their bikes or skate boards or roller blades out for a spin. Living just off a dead end provided a perfect venue for children in need of a quiet patch of asphalt to practice their various transportation skills.  And now, here I am again, crutching along on the next leg of some generational relay, where the feeble elders retrace the paths worn by the children not so very long ago.  Making my way along paths that will no doubt be retraced by  grandchildren, years hence.

 * * * * *

The Go Slow program would seem to be a little bit boring, by definition. Since I can’t drive, I can only get so far.  I’m not quite ready to hop on a bus or grab a cab. So my options, while expanding as my loops get longer, are still well-trod local territory.

And yet…how is it that this version of slowing down, this no-kids, just me going slow on these familiar routes, has turned into a new and heightened sense of awareness of my surroundings? Is it leafless spring, shining brighter on the flora and fauna as I pass by at a snail’s pace? Is it me wearing my glasses, which provide me with both farsightedness and up-close clarity simultaneously? Is it just a function of going slower and paying better attention?

Some of all three, maybe. Here’s just a handful of the things I’ve discovered as I’ve crutched around my environs:

IMG_4378Fire hydrants.  Who ever knew that fire hydrants proudly proclaim their place of birth? I happened to notice one that announced its production in Elmira NY, which is the home town of a friend of mine.  I wanted to take a picture for her, but there was someone sitting in a car nearby, and it felt a little weird.  So I continued down the street, sure that the  next hydrant would fill the bill.  Well, it did, but this one was from Albertville AL. Wait, what?  My first thought was that I only knew of the Albertville of Olympic fame in France.  Now I was curious. What else did I find?

IMG_4186Well, hello Chattanooga! circa 1997.

IMG_3962Okay, this shot I took because I’m collecting visuals of front yard fences.  Our row of yews took a beating this winter, and I’m tired of picking people’s garbage out of the branches.  But looky looky, that’s an Elmira NY hydrant, bless my soul!

IMG_4132This is the front walk to a house where William James, for whom the big ugly 15 story social sciences building down the street was named, lived for a time in the 1870s.  The front step clearly dates back to 1876. What I love is the tiny little bit of cement that was applied when the new brick sidewalk was recently installed, where the current owners and children got to memorialize their own years here. On the left side, Cameron and Casey.

IMG_4133And on the right, Callum and GG. I love this!

IMG_4376I’ve also loved this Chinese dragon, one of a pair that guard the entrance to Harvard’s Yenching Library, for ages and ages.  My kids loved rolling that marble ball around, always angling for a way to get it out.  Not without removing those fangs!

IMG_4314I can’t claim that I ever properly acknowledged the baby dragons.

IMG_4316Or the lovely lotus blooms on the base.

IMG_4347Austin Hall is my all-time favorite within walking distance building, and I’ve admired the artistry atop these columns for ages.  But I don’t think I ever noticed the column neighbors across the way.

IMG_4367And while I’m a complete sucker for silly faces and animals in my architecture, I don’t think I ever noticed that little frog, peeping out from above the two crabs.

IMG_4483Going slow means making time to stop and truly admire the things you already know you love. I worship Harvard Yard’s dawn redwoods, quite literally when I go to the morning chapel service and spend my time admiring them through the big Palladian window. This first burst of green took me by surprise, and the light insisted that I stop and take it in, up close.

* * * * *

So, huzzah for the little details that go missing when we whiz by, distractedly.  And hooray for excuses to employ the Go Slow program,  to refocus our view of the world to connect to life’s little wonderments.  Here’s hoping my heightened vision with live on, when I’m back to my regular pace.