I’m so stuffed with nostalgia lately, you’d think I was 90 years old peering back on the days when my little ones used to frolic in dirt, instead of still hunched over them in the bathtub, scrubbing mud off their tender bodies while they flinch and squirm.
Autumn is almost too much to bear. Everywhere I turn is another reminder of this season which is the literal fruition of spring’s fertility. Fruition, as in the end. To the west my neighbor’s apple tree buckles and creaks under the weight of juicy red orbs. To the east the gambel oaks glow—maroon, yellow, orange, green, gold—like a paint by numbers mural tacked up all around our Colorado valley.
And the children seem to be in transition too, reaching like an outstretched hand towards that red apple just beyond their grasp, stumbling, stretching further and then nailing it in their cupped hand. Maybe that’s just childhood, always straddling where you’ve been and where you’re heading. Like how Col will be calmly drawing pictures of planets, recounting their names in a scholarly way and 5 minutes later can barely form a sentence for all the weepy pleading for cereal after we’ve brushed his teeth. Or how Rose—all by her ownself—packs her thrift store purse with books and little chokeables for a visit with her grandparents, then returns 4 hours later, crawls into my lap and begs for “Mama milky.” Sigh. These ever evolving children. They’re like the aspen tree outside my window, half the tree’s leaves still summery green, the other half a fallen hem of yellow around its white legs. Straddling.
The nostalgia-meter bent towards “tilt” this morning at Col’s preschool drop off. All those beautiful, fresh-faced children settling in on the carpet to listen to the sweet-voiced Miss Ashley read The Thinks You Can Think by Dr. Seuss. The girls in sassy skirts and sparkly shoes, their tangled girl-curls pinned with barrettes that will wiggle out of their hair by the end of the day. And the boys, smelling like fertile soil steeped in apple juice, still tender enough to throw awkward hugs towards each other. The room pulsed with curiosity, goodness and the slight germy tinge of indoor children. And somehow ten years will pass and these same kids will be eye-rolling us parents while grabbing car keys to jet out and buy condoms and Red Bull. But at that moment, the warm, buzzing weight of Col’s boyish body on my lap was enough to spring soft tears to my eyes; the way he’d periodically stroke my face with the sweet little fingers that had just been up his nose. Eww; germy, indeed.
I left my boy after three hugs (“now I need a hug inside my classroom. Now I need a hug on the rug inside my classroom.”), turned the key in the ignition and got blasted with the mournful, other-worldly voice of Art Garfunkel singing “My mind’s distracted and diffused. My thoughts are many miles away. They lie with you when you’re asleep and kiss you when you start your day.” His voice is so gorgeous, it’s like floating in a warm ocean while peach nectar drips into your mouth; but it also makes me inexplicably sad. Driving home, the trees were the perfect storyboard to that particular brand of fall melancholia. The elms and cottonwoods bursting into yellow flames, and the maples finally dropping their stately, New England demeanor and going psychedelic in swirls of crimson, orange and gold. And the bittersweet tang of literally driving away from my children.
And yet, nostalgia is a house of mirrors; it distorts and tampers. In dwelling there too long, I may miss the last flicker of light in an aspen tree before winter snuffs it out, or whatever ordinary magic is being served up in the present moment.
I’m reminded of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble a book we’ve been reading lately. Sylvester, a donkey, finds a magic pebble imbued with the powers to grant him any wish he dreams of. When confronted with a hungry lion, Sylvester foolishly wishes to become a rock, where he remains “stone-dumb” for three seasons before his bereft parents stumble upon the pebble and in a nail-biting twist of plot, free their son. The donkey family is overjoyed beyond words to be reunited, and after the family “had eventually calmed down a bit” the father puts the magic pebble in an iron safe because, as narrator muses: “really, for now, what more could they wish for? They had all that they wanted.”
And really, for now—children on my lap, apples raining down—what more could I wish for?