I was out for a walk one recent morning, making a loop and ending in Old Mill Park, my favorite of our local parks. I had started out there earlier, when moms with young children in tow were beginning to gather at the play structure and the swings. A little girl, who looked to be around age two, ran in my direction, her white-blonde Raphaelite hair bouncing in the breeze, a look of total joy on her face. She was headed to the train car, an artifact from the gravity train that used to take tourists and locals to the tavern on top of Mt. Tamalpais during the days before there was a road or cars to travel them. I felt this strong physical urge to grab her and swing her around in the air and cuddle her next to my chest and kiss her face and neck. I could hear her giggles of delight in my imagination. So quick a thought. Really just a split second.
I spent countless hours in this park when my son was small. His dad and I were going through a divorce, I was in school studying for my design degree and it was a difficult period. At the time, it seemed that the minutes went by so slowly, and I remember the feeling of isolation and yes, boredom, and I remember wondering if these days would go on forever. I felt as if something was missing in me, that I lacked some maternal gene that the other moms seemed to possess, the gene that allowed them to joyfully while away hours on the playground, as if time didn’t matter and they had nothing more to do.
I remember swinging next to Eric, his knobby little knees turned inward, his trying to go higher as I kept coaching him, “pump harder!” and sitting in the train car playing pretend games with each of us having a part, me usually the driver and he the passenger. We made up stories about where we were going and who else was along for the ride. Those were the good moments.
I drove by the house we lived in right after Eric’s dad and I split. It is in such disrepair now and I know it will probably be torn down soon. I remember looking down into the yard from the sunroom window that was my office, watching Eric and our sitter, Tina, playing on the lawn. His hair was lighter then, straight and shiny and streaked with blond. Once they grew a sunflower that topped the height of the fence by several feet. I have the photograph of him on her shoulders, next to that golden blossom, so proud and happy.
I remember the dinner picnics we had, in front of the fireplace that was in his room. And the day we painted his bathroom bright yellow and hung the African masks on the wall. And lying next to him as he fell asleep at night, waiting until he was still and his breathing steady so I could get up again and finish my school work. I remember those things and I know I wasn’t always an imperfect mom.
Now I look at a young man that is taller than me, a young man on his way to college, who at nineteen has had more struggles than he ever deserved. And I know I couldn’t change his path, not then and not now. I look at his long, elegant hands, his body structure, his somewhat awkward gait that reminds me of his Grandpa Fred. And even as the pride wells up inside of me at the sight of him, I can’t help but think what I wouldn’t give for one more day in the park, one more day to look into that beautiful little face with the round red glasses and the dark, imperfect eyes that are my family’s legacy, one more day to hear his child voice again. Because even though it was lost to me then, I realize now that life will never again have so much purpose.
He will find his own way now. He will create a life for which I provided the foundation, but I will have little say in the building of it other than that of advisor. It is what life requires and it really shouldn’t be any other way. And as I move into this next phase of my life, I too will build a new foundation and move on, knowing always that he will be a part of whatever I create, maybe as a bystander, maybe as a participant. And who knows … maybe as an adviser.