Babies to Adults

Pulling into my condo complex, I noticed a teenager who had probably just gotten off his bus and was heading home. I waved before I could catch myself and remember that Mim or Dolly would have unequivocally scolded my wave. “Mom, leave him alone.” He waved back and casually smiled. And I felt rewarded for my inconsequential kindness and miffed at invisible Dolly and Mim who were not even with me. I was right. I can wave if I want to. I have known this boy across the way and waving at him since he was at least two feet shorter that he is now.

Adults seem so scared of teenagers. But teens are just the same kids they were a few years ago. They grow rapidly and sprout hair but they are internally the same. Well, hormones aren’t the same but the internal spirit. No need to fear the elementary student going off to middle school. This time of year comes with so much trepidation. Middle schoolers managing great big high school. High schoolers becoming college coeds. College grads turning into working humans. The only constant is change. And we worry and fret at each new transition.

Tuck left for Peru this week. He managed to phone the day before he left and reassure us that he was looking forward to his trip. He was planning on winging it- when he arrives in Lima he is either going to sight see a bit or take a bus to his final destination. He hadn’t decided yet. He is exactly the same as the fist year student at UCSC who lost his wallet and keys, had almost no money and figured out how to live across the country from his whole family. The same boy who never needed much of a plan and disliked transitions immensely. He overcame his disdain for change by settling into his own rhythm. Surfing instead of transitioning. His changes may look abrupt to an outsider but he has been rolling over these waves of thoughts in his mind for months. This is the same infant who arrived two weeks late after being pushed out by pitocin. Baby Tuck stayed in his cocoon as long as he could. He ate every twenty minutes and only slept in between feedings if I pumped his little hand in mine. I don’t talk to Tuck near enough and when I was out in CA for his graduation in June, I apologized for not talking on the phone more and he replied in surprise, we talk all the time. I think he meant, we know each other- like mom, you are I are sympatico whether we facetime or not. Regardless of how far away he is, we are together. In our hearts. I would relive any day of his life again just to re-experience our life together- the colicky days, the wandering toddler, the absorbed in thought book worm, the broad shouldered boy throwing shrimp nets in the May River, the corner kicking left footed Tucky Lucky soccer player, the sometimes overly affectionate teenage boyfriend, the reckless skateboarder, the surfing Californian, the bearded man who reads philosophy and listens to sad music. Loving Tuck throughout his life has been one of my greatest gifts.

BeBe started another year of classes. I attempted to be nonchalant, but I pleaded that she check in with me this week. She is the only Rodi in town besides Mim and I. BeBe lives in a great old apartment with Molly and BeBe’s dog and Molly’s cat. In the span of one summer she has gone from living with me and having a twin bed in the same room as George to having her own place and having a queen size bed. She rolls each pair of bluejeans from her collection into a small organized cubby. She and Molly do 1000 piece puzzles and glue them together to hang on the walls. She walks Posey to a bench on a main street in her neighborhood and sits and watches the people go by- but she wears her ear buds to reduce the appearance of wanting conversation. Her own interesting mix of conflicting traits that she has maintained since her infancy. She is the loviest baby. Giving hugs and saying “I la lu” (baby talk for I love you). But at the same time- staunchly independent. She was the first and only Rodi baby to not want to co-sleep. She spit out her pacifier at about 7 months and never wanted it again. She did everything by herself and she easily kept up with Addy and Tuck but she refused to go to the bathroom alone in a restaurant. She refused to speak to waiters. She feared police as if she had been arrested in another life. She has always been so good in school, teachers love her and yet she cannot stay still. She tap danced through first and third grade. She refused the chair that went with her desk and she took off her shoes so that she did not make too much noise. As a teenager, her friends parents encouraged their children to invite BeBe on outings and trips because they hoped she would be a good influence on their child. But she is never the type to tell. She is the one to confide in. She is so proud and encouraging of my writing and yet she is fiercely private and hates the thought of people reading about her or even worse -talking about her. She has always insisted on her hair being mega long. (She blames me for ruining her life when I gave toddler BeBe a sweet bob.) The night after Bernie Sanders withdrew from the presidential race, she shaved her head. Completely. She was the least likely person in our family to pet our dogs. She didn’t dislike them, she just ignored them. And now Posey is her absolute love. She is an amazing dog mama and she loves that shepherd like she is a queen. She needs her own space and she is the backbone of our family. The middle child who should have been prone to antagonizing her siblings and instead she glues them together. I would relive any day of being her mama- watching her feed her baby dolls their bottle before she was even one, refusing any food that did not come in a wrapper for fear that it was a vegetable, only potty training after I gave up and put her back in diapers, begging to stay all day at Temple preschool like the kids who needed day care, loving puddles and mud and raincoats, insisting on fairness as a school child- making sure kids with disabilities were included, unwavering in the center of a soccer field, the day she came out of the box ran the whole field and scored as the goalie for her team, begging to be homeschooled -acknowledging how hard it is to be raised in our family that insists on kindness and simultaneously in a world that values power and meanness, the bikini years, the handstand years, the first person in any body of water, the truth teller. BeBe loves me like I am even while living at home as a twenty year old. She can love me and be aggravated and annoyed by me. Her love is unconditional and yet like all of her contradictions- Do not cross her.

George unknowingly planned a trip to Oregon with Lizzy the same week that the new baby is due. Lizzy has been in Oregon this month and George is joining her the last week. A nice break from woodworking and mama chores. Just like his siblings, he is the same as he was when he was a baby. The same personality. When he was about 9 months, the threee older siblings and I played a game with him. Show me your surprised face. And we would all make the face of Maccauley Culkin in Home Alone. Or Show me your happy face and we would smile sweetly. But the piece de resistance was Show me your lovey face and plumpy baby George would lean his jowels over to his shoulder and grin real big. And we would all ooooh and ahhhhh. Those fat cheeks leaning with the force of gravity over to the side as he tilted his head and showed us his puppy dog eyes. He was just darling. And he still is. Hardly a word until a fountain like story bubbles out and surprises us. He gives his love freely and is tirelessly empathetic. The other day, while riding in the car he told us a story about something small that happened at work and after he finished. talking- he sighed audibly. I smiled and said almost jokingly, was telling that story that hard? He replied in a tired voice- “It was so hard to get all those word out.” He writes and plays banjo and guitar. And I’m so lucky to get to hear his thoughts through his music or his notebooks. I would relive everyday with this boy. We came home from the hospital with our biggest baby of almost 9 pounds. He and I languished in my big bed and nursed while I read three huge books and let the summer shine in through my big picture window as roses and hydrangeas and wisteria grew in our front yard. His lovey faces. His bustle which was what we called his particular style of walking. His deliberateness as a toddler and preschooler. The entire year he pretended to be a horse. The year he wore a Batman costume. His fourth year when he copied my Dad and wore a button down shirt and a tool belt. In Kindergarten, he had a male teacher and a best friend named Whit and the three of them loved Red Socks baseball more than life. In elementary school, he was always last to finish his work and last to turn in a test. He admits now that he did it on purpose- what is the point of hurrying? The way he picks up a new sport or instrument or art form without blinking an eye. Doesn’t matter what it is- badminton, self portraiture, poetry, cornhole. He is just naturally good at stuff. He quit soccer because as it got further and further into high school, the assholes became bigger assholes. He values his own time and doesn’t give it to jerks. When he lived in Maine he would sit outside so long and as darkness creeped in, the mice and small creatures would skittle across his boots. Forever, I will love. this human.

Dolly left for Massachusetts. It is time for another to fly the coop. And if a spot could be found that suits Dolly to a tee- she did it. Smith College. And I am reeling and alternatively closing down my systems at the clear undeniable knowledge that her bedroom is empty. Dolly has a sense of style that is closest to my own, in terms of decor. She has books galore. Aubee’s antique saddle hanging on the wall. Collages of camp photos. Even an owl. She keeps curios in a small open cabinet from a thrift store. She mixes patterns and understands that all florals look amazing on a bed. But this week, her room has been stripped. BeBe took some of it while Dolly was a way at summer camp. And then Dolly took her prized possessions to Massachusetts. An area of the state I have never even been. Dolly read about Smith in a novel, then researched it and last summer she and her friend Lolly drove from Atlanta to Maine and stopped at Smith only to realize it was as good as they imagined. And now she is there sleeping in the same room, and the same bed, as Julia Child once slept. Well that is a tall tale- she is living in the same house that the famous and spectacular Julia Child lived in when she herself went to Smith. A Queen Ann style home- I am told- but I need to look that up. 18 inch window sills. Unpainted wood trim. Two Windows. What dorm room has two windows? I’m so happy for her. She found her Stars Hollow (Gilmore Girls reference). I came home early from Louisiana so that I could hug her one more time before she left for college. I came home the day before her departure. There wasn’t much left to do to help. She was packed and had a well organized, categorized list on her phone so nothing could be forgotten. Walking in her room before she left was too hard. Memories of past moves flooded my tear ducts. It was a knee jerk reaction and I said a tiny prayer to god that I never move again. I don’t think it would be too dramatic to say it is possible I have been traumatized by past packing and moving days. Mainly the times, Walt insisted on the genius of a boxless move. My precious items like a thousand picture books and photos in frames and the tchotchkes smushed into a U-Haul in no particular order. And having to paint a smile on my face so that he thought it was brilliant that we moved across the country this way. Otherwise I would appear ungrateful or materialistic.

I made it to Louisiana with time to photograph and witness Addy in labor and the birth of our lionhearted baby. A catalyst for photography classes and daily practice was the hope that one day I would capture my miracles having their own miracles. I awaited the day of the call to come for days and lucky lucky lucky for us baby Leo arrived two days before his due date. The labor was longggg. 26 hours at least.

Mim fretted I didn’t have enough love for both the new baby and her. She is our self appointed favorite, after all.

What to say about the immense magical birth? A human coming landside. A new person to learn and love and treasure.

Addy and her husband of 11 months, Ficken are magical parents oozing calm and fervor. Laboring – with Ficken and I both shocked by the strength of the contractions. Her body making space where space has never existed to allow a human to exit her womb. How does this happen everyday all over this planet? Women continuing the species in the hope that this life will be better. No promise. Little evidence. Yet, hope and extreme generosity. The body a human motel. All pink and warm. And thrumming. My child birthed a child on the third floor of Saint Tammany hospital with a lovely nurse from Chicago. And I imagined all the births I’ve experienced. Wordlessly. The power too great. Pain cannot be physically remembered. Imagining Mim’s birth mom without ability to process it all in a similar room in a hospital in Manhattan bringing life to our baby girl. Tucky in St. Thomas in Nashville. George and Dolly born in Georgetown. BeBe came in Alexandria, VA with me begging the British nurse to talk to me with her entrancing accent. Addy in Santa Barbara with my mom and dad in the room. Walt by my side. Truly.

After 336 dollars Frida is no longer vomitting. George is in Oregon. Dolly is gone to college. Tuck is in Peru. Addy has her own family. BeBe has her own life of college, a job and an apartment. Mim and I are home alone. This was the goal. This is the dream. Happy healthy growing children becoming fucking awesome adults. So why is it so occasionally dreadful. The last week of August finds me a grandmother, librarian, single mom of one child and five (not home) adults., one sick Frida dog and one sad Linus dog. ( A depressed dachsund is not a good sight.) Linus thought he was going to Massachusetts. True to form of my new stage in life, I have horrible plantar fascitiis so I limp around and pitch my hip making it tight with stress and misuse. I need a hair cut and a new foot. I’m shockingly low on money, which just makes it hard to cope by shopping. But my cousin Mesissa reminds me money is a river not a puddle. It will flow again.

You have commented before- “It isn’t that bad for you having a child leave the nest because you have six children.” Or the lovely idea that eventually a mother is absolutely sick and tired of her high schooler bursting into independence and adulthood and so the mother is thrilled when the man-child or woman-child leaves home. But what you are missing is that I particularly like and love and admire and need that particular child. The lack of Dolly in my home is not replaced by Mim’s insistence on bringing 100 Blow Pops to the cross country meet. I miss picking up Dolly at lacrosse only to sit and wait in my hot Subaru. I wait and watch every other lacrosse player go to their cars. Windows down and Mim cross that I speak to students as they pass by and pet Frida and LInus who are drooling out their backseat window. Dolly comes out last because she takes her duties as team captain seriously. She carries off the heaviest equipment for the fifth year in the row. New players should have to do the grunt work according to the unwritten rules of high school athletics. She falls into the car while petting the excited dogs and settling two backpacks and long lacrosse sticks. Her cheeks are red. Tiny ringlets spring along her hairline. And she plugs her phone into my aux cord so that we can hear her good songs- reminiscent of camp and melancholy angst. I love this particular child with the hidden kindness, strong muscles, and ringlets. My heart aches for this sweet fiery Dolly who claims her space and collects series of books and tarot cards. She said before she left that she will call when she has a breakdown- which is true. She will call on her worst days. I probably won’t hear from her on her best days- which is somewhat similar to my telephone relationships.

I wondered who and why the laundry detergent kept moving from one spot behind the bathroom door to the hallway. With only Mim and I at home, I discovered my culprit and asked her why. She showed me how when she is angry and wants to slam the door of the bathroom, she requires full range of motion for the bathroom door and the five inches that the box of Gain took up reduced the fury of the door slam.

I bought her new shoes tonight. She went from a size 7.5 to a 9. And she complained that the shoes that were the most comfortable made her feet look too small. I did not get to peruse the aisles of Nordstrom rack for my own shoes to replace my white Dansko sandals that will be off limits after Labor day. As soon as I left her to her own devices in a shoe aisle, she tried on ridiculous high heels that hurt her foot that is patiently waiting for her orthopedic appointment next week- which threw her into a quiet rage. “We are leaving. Now.” She vexed. No time to sift through the shelves of unwanted shoes to find a rare pair of Birkenstocks with my name on them. We made it home after comforting fried tofu with plum sauce. She is waiting in our bed for me to come scratch her upper back and massage her lower back. I’m waiting to finish the wash. All the towels are dirty due to Free Free’s illness. George was supposed to get home tonight but his plane made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City instead of Atlanta. A passenger became disgruntled and was arrested and so the airplane turned around to disembark the nasty criminal. George said the man was still sitting in the airport terminal in hand cuffs. I told G to go tell that man that his mother is very disappointed in him.

All these characters I write about will eternally love our brand new character. A new person to love. I couldn’t be more lucky. Familiar lullabies to sing. Involuntary rocking dance while I hold him. Bathing the neck that hides between his head and shoulders. Waiting for his umbilical cord stump to fall off so Mim is less grossed out. Watching Addy nurse him like it is her job because right now it is. Watching Ficken change his diaper slowly and surely to disturb him as little as possible. What will he like? Lions like his name. Sunshine like his mama. Will he sign more like my babies did? Will he walk late like his mom? Will his hair turn white like his daddy? His eyelashes already are white. I miss this particular baby with the swirl of brown hair and intense eyes. I want this baby in my life as much as possible. How can I not live by him? I will know him whether he is here or there. We will be thick as thieves. LaLu and Leo.

I cannot write anymore because a student in the library stepped on my Mac charger and now the tiny end is bent and will not go into it’s slot. I am on 8%. George has a charger that fits in my laptop but he will not be home in time before I fall asleep. Damn disgruntled airplane passenger. Mim overheard the airplane conversation between George and I which further cemented Mim’s phobia of flying. Come hell or high water I will make it to Dolly’s college family weekend.


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