The summer I was six—or maybe seven—possibly eight—though definitely not nine, because nine was, if not exactly the beginning of the next nine years, then something other than the previous nine, a year with more upward and outward and a small, significant tilt toward more expansive things—I spent the better part of a day blinging out my bicycle. My exact age warps a little under time's weight. But not the exact contours of the day.
It was warm, warm enough for shorts, and bare feet, and genuine en plein air comfort, even seated against the cold concrete of our carport. High summer, in Seattle. There was sun, and no school, and nowhere to go, and hands-down best of all, a new copy of National Geographic World. I loved National Geographic World. It came every month, that year, the result of some school subscription offer. For the most part, our giant silver mailbox was my dad's domain, oversized and the biggest by far on the block, all the better to hold his abundant important stuff. But every thirty days, give or take, on a day I could never quite pin down, that cool dark cavern held mail for me. Me! Hiding between the bills and letters and manila envelopes and endless circulars: actual mail, with my name on it. You know that small, vivid rush of your present-day pocket, suddenly abuzz with a new text? That was World magazine, ca. 1980. Heady stuff.
That particular day, that particular month's issue had enveloped me, entirely. I read the full three-page spread on Koala bears, their eucalyptus ways and impossible noses. I read about the colorful clothes and high altitude and merry music of stunning ebony-haired schoolkids in Peru. I worked the crossword, nailed the word search, savored each mediocre cartoon, even read the letters from readers. The letters from readers were rarely great. It must've been mid-July. I must've been bored silly.
And then, having saved the best for last, I turned my attention to my bike. I rode a pink Schwinn, in those days, gifted to me by my grandparents one Christmas. Actually, before the age of 18, that pink Schwinn was the only bike I ever rode, ever owned. In the beginning, it was much too big, then too big then just big and then !blink! just right. It became small, the summer thereafter. Though that didn't stop me from riding it another three years.
That month's World, like every month's World, included a craft, a card-stock centerfold guaranteed to occupy at least a good hour. More often, a splendid one. This issue? "Summer Bicycle Fun!" There were cards to cut out, four-to-a-page, to weave between your front and back spokes, to achieve that enviable flippity-flippity-FLIP! that was equal parts awesome and ghastly. There were stupid-simple, life-changing instructions to slide slit drinking straws over spokes. (I co-opted our entire inventory. I felt like a Queen.) There was a bang-up, full-page, four-color illustrated guide to ribbons and your bike: ribbons added by fistfuls to handle-ends, and wrapped around frames, and tied onto pigtails, so you and your bike could blaze down the street in a blur of streamer-handled, color-coordinated glory. (This was also the era of Jordache jeans, and Donny and Marie, and Aquanet. Lots and lots of Aquanet. Context is everything.)
I did it all.
Since I'm fairly certain six paragraphs about Carter-era bicycle froth is at least five too many, I won't bore you with the details. I could, though. Because the scissors and straws and focus and thrill and shadows moving across the yard, from the glossy camellia up front at mid-morning, to the twin backyard maples by latest afternoon, are all as crisp as yesterday. This fascinates and terrifies me.
There's this terrible, wonderful gamble we take up, when we take on the title of "parent". This complete disconnect between all we do, 24x7, and what our kids remember. We invest hours, days, decades, doing this work that we do. Showing up time and again to read the bedtime stories and bake the warm cookies and referee the play dates and brush out the tangles and make, yet again, all the dirty jeans clean (so. many. dirty. jeans). Crafting routines and habits and character and construction paper hearts and hand print turkeys. Creating rhythms and meals and messes and cleaning up every last one, then teaching them to do the same. Building safe homes where ideas can fly and feelings, too, and silly jokes and sudden tempers and setbacks, galore. Or we try. Results may vary. I know mine do.
And what do they remember? The random, spontaneous, semi-commercial bicycle bling. Which is to say, very little. Or very little of what you carefully planned and constantly upheld, anyway. In truth, of course, they remember plenty, big things and small, whole days and scrap moments. The tricky bit, the great wild mystery, is that your moments and theirs are so rarely the same. You both begin with the same sprawling data set. But oh, wow, how the search results differ. I suspect this is as it should be. A chasm called generations. An alchemy of age, genes, temperament and perspective. And in truth, as our children gain in years and inches and independence, comparing those takeaways on our days is a sometimes-baffling, occasionally-depressing, very often very hysterical thing. To hear my now-15-year-old tell of the time he pulled a Dash and left a tack on our desk chair, at age 4? An event I know only from his (vivid) re-telling? Worth a year (or three)'s unnoticed laundry. Easy.
(And mom? For all the unseen clean clothes, and forgotten homework help, and unappreciated room tidies? I remember, acutely, the lavender oil applied to every single set of fresh sheets. Also, the brioche, those loaves of warm, egg-yolk-yellow, butter-soused homemade brioche. They were really, really fine. I remember them all.)
I wonder what my children will remember, of this past year. Few of the those days I composed, anyway. The sub-zero cold days that outnumbered snow days, last winter? The discovery of a love of piano? Mastering chapter books? Surpassing parents in height? The mango sprout, audaciously started from seed? How everyone wanted to see Inside Out? How no one wanted to see Minions? Our lovely, leisurely spring break? Last summer's swim lessons? The trip we took to Seattle, in July? Not six weeks before we learned we'd be moving back?
Pretty sure they'll remember the moving part. The bitter and the sweet of it, both. Packing up the house that has been the backdrop of their lives, our lives, for six years and more. The thrill of new walls, and the long wait they required. The limbo in between. The mechanics of moving schools. Mid-year. Three times over. Mechanics being the least of it. The houses being the least of it. The friendships and neighborhood and community, built over years and gatherings and classrooms and school runs and ordinary everyday thick and thin, being, by far, the most of it. Learning new, long-distance ways to sustain such things, from afar. Learning to put down new tender strong roots, in our new/old backyard.
It has been a mighty big year, my friends. Mighty and big both being gross understatements. On October 26, 2015, after 6 years, 8 months, and 12 days in our adopted (beloved) home of Upper Arlington, Ohio, we boarded a one-way flight to Seattle. And so, we begin again.
Calendar aside, the year's not over yet. The work of such moves, spread across five souls, is real, intense, consuming good work. I've hoisted my camera exactly once since last May, on a walk in our new woods, sometime late last fall. I've just today downloaded the photos. Three months later. You see how it is.
I can't say when or how I might work in time, here. I can say I have so missed this space. The time and room and quiet to think, to put words around days and make sense of experience, the conversations, this sweet kind community, stretched across time and space. Your comments and e-mails and notes, these past months, have been read, every last one, and cherished. Thank you. For writing. For checking. For checking again. If I've not managed a reply, you'll know why. Life. Priorities. So many dirty jeans.
No recipe today. Just a wave and a grin and a huge HELLOOOO!!!! and a belated Happy New Year. Let's talk again soon, yes?