First there were just the two of us, G and I, living on love and baked potatoes in those early years. For the most part, a world of two. A cocoon, really. Then came Lauren and we happily adjusted our tethers a bit (ha! or a lot) to fasten her in and form a family of three. Then Maddy and, a little later, Sam arrived and we multiplied the bonds of our web, adding new sibling strands that were separate from but connected to the marriage and parenting ones. Each time, more connections meant more conflict, more energy, more chaos, more silliness, more work, more joy. Sometimes in the throes of adjusting we would look at each other and despair: "What have we done?!" mourning the version of life we left behind.
You know where I'm going with this. We've maxed out the "one-little two-little three-little" song and now we're subtracting. We're shrinking! It's a different business shrinking a family rather than growing one. You still adjust as a group, take on new roles. Someone new gets to be the "oldest child" for a while. But where before you adjusted to something new that was added, now you adjust to having something crucial that was subtracted. Some days it just feels like the family fabric has simply extended over mountains and oceans--stretched, sure, but in tact. Other days it feels like there's a gaping, whistling hole in the everyday fabric of our days. Where before there were moments of "what have we done?!" now there are moments of "what shall we do?" mourning the version of life we left behind.
So we've started our third family--or sixth?--depending on how you count. This new family, the one currently under our roof now that Maddy has launched like a second family satellite--far away but still orbiting--this little family is quieter than the others. More independent. There's less laundry, fewer dishes in the sink, fewer rides and appointments and places to be, no more need for Costco (!). For the first time, I'm outnumbered, genderly speaking. This makes me feel kind of queenly but also who will watch period dramas with me now? The boys (that's how I think of my at-home family now, "the boys") outnumber me but, perhaps the strangest feeling of all, the adults outnumber the kids again for the first time since 1995. Our silly quotient has taken a dive without those contagiously hilarious moments between siblings. Now there are no siblings here, just a guy and his parents! I like to think we are pretty fun people, G and I, but still. I miss our maximum silliness that is achieved only when everyone's here. Fewer under-one-roof connections means less conflict, less energy, less chaos, less work, more nostalgia. (Oh, the nostalgia!)
I fully confess that these are first world mama problems of the highest magnitude. I remember the days--years, really--when receiving a prison sentence of solitary confinement sounded like a pretty attractive way to live compared to the never-ending touching/eating/rocking/chasing/wiping/calming/feeding demands of a younger family still in the throes of heavy duty bootcamp parenting. I think of dear friends whose children didn't live long enough to launch or who didn't arrive in the family when hoped for or as expected. Others have children who will always be with them for physical or emotional or other reasons.
And, really, I know this family gig continues for all of us. The revolving door revolves, bringing folks out and back in, and we are fixtures in each other's lives forever. But the in-house, full time setting with all my people at home together feels like such a whirring blip of time in retrospect. When I came across this passage last weekend, I underlined it and put a star in the margin to share with you. Whether your child is in kindergarten this year or 10th grade or college, you will understand all the layers--one through sixteen--of these sentiments:
"Dave was fifth in the straggled line of returnees, running easily, neither trying for a dramatic finish nor easing up, but finishing just behind the lead pack of three seniors and the tall thin sophomore. Dave's dad watched with a complex mix of feelings--unutterable pride in this son (that kid was two years old two minutes ago, and look at him now those scything legs!), a sigh that he was so damned skinny (how can he possibly compete against those kids--they are twice as thick as he is...he looks like a heron running with deer), worry about him not being dressed properly (aw, a sleeveless shirt and shorts in snow for heaven's sake), and deepest of all, beyond any words he could have summoned to drape on the feeling, a sense of impending loss and the cruelty of time and the yaw of mortality.
"Very soon, all too soon, Dave would go away--college, work, the navy, traveling, who knew? And while his dad, from layers one through fifteen of his soul, was delighted and thrilled and proud and happy that this would happen, pleased that things looked good for Dave to grow into a cool and responsible young man over the next four years, enough that he could launch into a stimulating life of his own, which every good dad wants for his kid, he also felt, silently, at level sixteen, in the innermost chamber of his heart, a terrible sadness that there would come a day when, look for him as he might, there would be no Dave in the cabin, in the school, on the mountain, and good and right and healthy as that would be, it would also be a hole that could never be filled by anything or anyone else. He loved Maria with a deep and powerful love, but he had two children, and one is not two." (Martin Marten*, Brian Doyle)
*Book recommendation: Okay, friends, I just finished Martin Marten and cannot stop thinking about it. It's a delightful read. Here's what you do: wait until you have the time and headspace to really savor this book and sink under the spell of the writing. Give it a few chapters to settle in and to abandon your skepticism. It's a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy growing up in Oregon and a young marten (yes, an animal, that kind of marten) growing up in the forest nearby. Don't let that put you off, though. I've never been an animal book person--I could never be convinced to read any horse stories whatsoever, not even Black Beauty--but loved this. Though I have to admit I might have read faster/skimmed through one or two descriptive nature passages but not because they weren't fantastic--because I wanted to find out what happened next. Masterful storytelling and an unforgettable, unique narrative voice about family and community and layers of stories and place. It's kind of hippyish, too, as Oregonians sometimes are :) but just such a good read overall--and he clearly loved commas at least as much as I do! (15+? Some language, complex themes and relationships)