I love black tea with milk, the cherry almond scones at Adagio and buttercup squash, quartered, rubbed with sea salt and olive oil, and roasted on the grill. I love solitude and quiet, fresh air any day of the year, the tinge of lavender on my husband’s eyelids, the belly roar of his laugh. I love the courage of one daughter and the confidence of the other. I love the kindness in the heart of our son yet this love can feel like homework from a wise teacher who has handed back my paper a half-dozen times, always with the same instruction: This isn’t your best work; try again.
Love would be easier if our boy would keep his fingers out of the candle wax, keep his size tens under his own chair and away from his sister, if he could ask when dinner will be ready without thundering up the stairs and swinging the door on its hinges until the wood slips from his hand and crashes into the wall. Love would bubble up more freely if dirty socks weren’t strewn from bottom step to bedroom like crumbs on Hansel and Gretel’s trail, if wet towels and T-shirts were tossed in the laundry basket and not dropped at his feet, if his insatiable hunger for video games didn’t look and smell like addiction, if anger hadn’t propelled his fist through plaster.
Before I leave for a 3-day retreat, I go first to Ali’s room where I must ask for a hug, not once but twice. She reluctantly drops the cellphone into her lap and cradles my neck with her left arm, adding a melodious coo at my right ear. I turn the corner to see Tess, half-running, arms open, face radiant. We smack once on the lips and connect in an easy embrace. I kiss the top of her head, sniff her damp hair. Pierce watches, hyper alert, fidgety hands in the pockets of his jeans, waiting for me to make the first move.
I reach for his shoulders as he wraps his lanky limbs across my back and breaks into a smile. I feel his muscles let go, his chest relax, two lean and strong bodies who now fit in the same way I slip into the form of his father. At sixteen and forty-seven, these males stand head to head, the boy fifty pounds lighter, less sure of himself, more wounded, needy and afraid, the boy who breaks my soft heart. Did I hug them in the order of my love, these three mice I am raising? I mother them blindly and ferociously, one day sure-footed and the next floundering through the brave act of nurturing a blended trio, none of whom came from my womb yet each calling my name from across the globe, from across the room. Be mine, they say, over and over, like a valentine with a big red heart that shouts Open Me First.
Photo by Katy Tartakoff, May 23, 2008