I. Time is a gift. Just ask my 4-year old. It’s all he wants.
He’s not interested in a nice vacation or a fancy car, just time with me.
Time to play with trains, cars, and small trucks. To sit on the floor and chat as we run miniature vehicles over tracks, bridges, and construction sites pieced together with tissue boxes and blankets. Or maybe to perch on small stools at a miniature table surrounded by construction paper, Scotch tape, string, and bits of colorful ribbons, wrapping up those small vehicles and giving them to each other as gifts.
“Mommy, can you just try to forget what I put in here?” he asks as he awkwardly folds light blue paper over the Little People bus driver right in front of me and pulls out eleven inches of tape, truly believing that an affirmative answer indicates a mother’s memory immediately erased.
“Yes, I can. I have no idea what’s in there,” I pretend, amused by his satisfied smile. I wait as he winds the tape around the package and watch him hide the bundle under the bookcase with the other surprises. Later, he tells me, we will have a party to celebrate this, my twenty-first birthday.
It will be my best birthday yet.
II. I light three candles at church, creating a glow that sends love and peace across the country to a place where a family grieves one of life’s worst losses, the death of a young mother. The first candle is carefully lit for my friend, the second for the beloved cousin she lost to Leukemia a few days ago, and the third for a 3-year old girl suddenly left without a mother.
It is difficult to stop lighting those candles. What about that woman’s grieving husband? Her parents? Her sister? Sometimes there are simply too many candles to light.
It is my worst nightmare, this idea of dying and leaving young children behind. Growing up, I knew six young people from three different families who were orphaned when their parents died. One of them, a 6-year old boy, lived with my family between the deaths of his father and mother. He was separated from his 2-year old brother, who lived with relatives during that period. I also knew two families who had lost their fathers in car accidents. Losing my parents was a regular source of worry in my teen years, and this was transformed into a heightened sense of my own mortality after I had children. I have probably never admitted to anyone that I often catch myself assuming that I will die young. This is true, despite the fact that both sides of my family have a strong history of longevity. I take photos, capture special moments on video, and write about my experiences with my boys to preserve as much as I can. To leave a trail, I suppose, in case I am suddenly gone when my children are too young to fully remember me. Perhaps fearing that I can be forgotten as quickly as a hastily wrapped Little People figure in construction paper and tape.
I think about the loss of this young mother and feel the sadness wrapped around me like a very heavy blanket.
III. “Mommy, can we make Halloween cookies?” he asks after church. I nod. “Yes, we can. Do you want to help me make the dough while your brother is at soccer?” I ask. He does.
He measures, counts, and tries to read the list of ingredients with me. This boy who wants to be a baker when he grows up cracks eggs like a pro and fishes out the bits of shell that inevitably make it into the bowl when he is put in charge. He is proud of his work.
After adding the eggs and vanilla to the shiny aluminum bowl of the new Kitchen Aid, I tell him he can control the mixer. “What number, Mommy?” he asks. Consulting the manual’s description of each speed, I instruct, “Number 4, please.” He gradually moves the lever up from 1 to 2, and then pauses. Looking at me with dark brown eyes I know well from my own mirror, he asks tentatively, “Can we just leave it at 2 this time?” I consider for a moment that mixing the dough on a slower speed would stretch out this special time together, and that on some level this is what he is asking for, and in fact is all he ever wants from me.
“Of course,” I tell him, “that’s fine,” and smile down into those eyes. “Thank you, Mommy,” he says softly, and reaches out his little arm, linking it with mine, drawing me closer. “I love you, Sweetie,” I tell him, and kiss his forehead. “I love you, too,” he replies, folding himself into my arms to be held.
The time we have together now is really all that matters. How clearly I can see that today.