There are so many stories from our road trip to Chicago. So many gifts to savor from our time in the city and with family. Today I want to unwrap just one small one.
When my dad pulled into his garage on the drive home from my brother’s house after Thanksgiving dinner, I was struck by the sight of my mom’s handwriting on a pair of plastic drawers. One drawer was labeled Maria and the other Elizabeth. In March it will have been two years since my mom died, and so I have become accustomed to grief’s unexpected, spontaneous strikes. Surely I’d seen those drawers before, and Mom’s handwriting everywhere in Dad’s house, but that night, the sight left me breathless and tear-stained.
One of the tasks that nagged at Mom during her illness was sorting through old papers and she often talked about wanting to give each of her children a box of their papers that she had kept. She often asked me to come home to help with this task, but then, once I was there, would have no interest in it. I assumed these two plastic storage drawers held old class photos and birthday cards of my two sisters. I assumed I reacted to their sight because they brought to mind how my mom would doodle while on the phone, and her favorite doodle---a list of her children’s names.
So I didn’t go out to the garage with them in mind. I was looking for a ladle. But I opened one and found all the letters I had written my mother while in Russia. I’d never even thought of asking for them, and didn’t realize just how much I wanted them until they were in my hands. Thank you, Mom, for keeping them.
I also found this card.
I was in 2nd grade when I made it. My dad was in the hospital with an infection in his heart, the only time I can recall him ever missing work. I love so many things here---the random circle sticker, my rendering of him smiling in bed, my creative spelling, and the offering of a prayer (poor banished children of Eve, indeed) that I only half-knew so it concludes: the end.
Most of all, I love the back image:
People joke about the messiness of parenting young children, the mundane tasks, the bedtime sagas and endless questions. It’s much harder to describe the love fest. As a young girl I was in love with my dad, as I assume all daughters are. I needed him to be perfect and so he was.
Each of my sons went through a phase when they would ask me to marry them. When they’d hold my face in their small hands and whisper how much they loved me. Nolan is in that phase now, pausing at random times in our dashing through the loop to take off his mitten and ask me to plant a kiss on his palm. Sitting on my dad’s couch, I held Nolan on my knee while he threw his arms around my neck and laughed in-between kissing my cheeks. My dad was sitting next to me and he smiled watching us. “He’s exactly like you,” he said, and I know he didn’t mean Nolan’s blue eyes or chubby cheeks.
To parent well means to soak in all that unconditional love children give you, to enjoy that brief time when you are the sun of their solar system, and to gracefully let it go. To know you’ve done your job well if you are no longer the center of their world. I am in awe of how my father managed to do that---I can’t fathom how hard it was---or will be---to move from the being the sun to one of many moons.