Sunday, May 04, 2008

When I Am Five

We've had a week of birthdays.Last weekend was Missy's Terrible Two, of course. And this weekend was the "official" Big Five for Mister Pea. Mind you, he was very clear on the actual timing of the Event: before he blew out his candles he was still four. After the Cake, he was five...kind of like thoroughbreds all getting a year older at the stroke of New Year's.

For Big Boy Peeper, his birthday got a real jump start at my fave breakfast spot, the Beaterville Cafe, when the lovely waitstaff, hearing that it was his big day, came up with a treat to tempt any preschooler: strawberries and whipped cream!The Peep barely waited to blow out his candles before digging in, his pancake forgotten...While we were heading back out to Bob the Subaru who should we encounter but our co-adoptive-parent Kelli (with a charmin' Aussie bloke - Kelli, you minx!). We talked of this and that but mostly about new mommy H, whose little man I mentioned just the other day - we are all very excited for her! But also frustrated at the slow pace of referrals and other body blows such as the closing of Vietnam's US-IA program. So nice to see Kelli - I know that it can't be possible, but it seems like she never has an unhappy day. Every time we see her her smile lights up her face like a good deed in a tawdry world. You're gonna be such a great mommy, Kelli...

There was more Peeperness after that - Mojo stayed home to try and nap Missy while Peep and I went to little Columbia Park Annex to play on the slide. After the crush got too much - there was a softball game in progress nearby with attendant kids on the playset - we went across Lombard to Columbia Park where we played until we couldn't play any more. Then it was Arby's for lunch and Peep's favorite curly fries and then home to play some more. By three everyone was napped (OK, Missy was, anyway...) and ready for birthday fun.We tried to keep things relatively sane. No clowns, no games, no bouncy houses (the kids across the back alley had one for what must have been someone's birthday last week and I swear, it looked like someone was cooking JiffyKidPop in a giant purple plastic pan. Every five seconds a kid would fly up in the air...). We had stuff to eat and drink, lots of trucks and other toys to play with, a yard to run in and a sandbox to dig in.

[Shite. As I type this I recall that I didn't check to see if we put the covers back on the sandbox. Dammit. OH well, the sandbox may have become the catbox. Wretched cats.]

The big moment arrived; Peep blew out the twelve (?) candles and is officially five.And, of course, there were presents.

When the last sugar-activated little guest pogoed down the front steps we slumped amid the wreckage secure that most everyone had had a good time.Of course, the evening ended with a hyper Missy spilling her water all over her crib, crying herself to sleep and a gooned-out Peeper having a huge meltdown and fight with his mom over a video. But, hey, it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the ol' childrearing game, right?

So - that was that - a very Happy Birthday, indeed. If you want to stop at the happy children stories you should stop here.

Because there is one more thing I need to talk about. Although the very thought and mention of it is cruelly hard for me.

My parents were here to enjoy their grandchildren's birthdays (and to meet their little granddaughter for the first time). They seemed to enjoy Missy's happy laughter and the Peeper's liveliness, although I have to say that he was pretty grumpy and unpromising about interacting with Pop-pop and Gramma. But that's five - at least he didn't tell me, as I once told MY father, that he didn't want to kiss his grandma because she made him think of Death...!

(In my defense, my paternal Grandma WAS a fairly dessicated old bombazine vulture at that point. Still, I was a wretched child...)

So I think they enjoyed their trip. But for me it was...I'm not sure what it was. Painful? Saddening? Enraging? It was not all that enjoyable and in many ways disturbing.

The thing is...I think we all have in our heads an image of our parents as they were when we first recognized them as people and not just food-dispensers and bottom-washers. I would guess for most of us - for me, at least - it comes somewhere between first speech and puberty. So I suspect that most of us mentally see our parents as the young adults they were when we were little. Strong. Big. The living embodiment of why growing up was something to be desired. Powerful.

But here was my mother, hunched in the glider, a weak, hesitant, infirm old lady. There's more that I don't want to speak of - age is indignity enough without public exposure, and her story is not mine to tell. But in the two years since we last saw her she seems to have dwindled a decade's worth of age. She is visibly uncomfortable at best, in pain at worst, and in the cold ashes of her disability I watched my memory of the tall, buxom redhead with the loud confidence char down to clinker. That woman is gone, gone as if she had never been. I feel like someone crept into my head and stole my mother, my memory of the straight young woman who almost sparked with energy, who comforted me when I was scared and hugged me when I was sad and gave me her strength and love so I could love and be strong.

At least her mind is still clear. Thank God.

But for the first time I looked at my parents and can picture myself standing before their graves. And not far in the future. Perhaps not tomorrow, or next week. But soon, soon enough.

I know that it is the way of the world for sons to bury their parents. I know that we are born into the world owing life a death. But right now I feel like I'm grieving twice: once for the loss of the mother I knew, and once for the sorrow to come.


atomic mama said...

Poignant stuff. But it's barely 7AM and I can't get past the image of that big pancake with butter and rashers. MMmm... Happy birthday, Peeper!

FDChief said...

AM: And don't forget their outSTANDing biscuits-and-cream-gravy. Mmmmyeah!!

pluto said...

Sounds like the B-day party was a well-accomplished mission (as opposed to others I could name). Well done!

As a father I always measure good outcomes vs. bad and if your kids seem to mostly have had a good time and came out of the event in pretty good shape then you've scored a victory, just 10,000 more and your kid will be a fully functional adult.

I understand your pain for your parents condition all too well. I went through a similar experience a few years back when my grandfather died. His death was a long slow painful process that saw many steps, a few forward and far too many backwards. There were good days, bad days, and days I wanted to forget as quickly as possible. Finally the pain stopped when he passed away under the best possible circumstances at the age of 93.

We didn't realize how lucky we'd been until somebody at the hospital commented that with modern technology they could have kept him alive for another 10 years. The last three years had been almost unbearable, another 10 would have been cruel and unusual punishment for everybody, especially my grandfather!

The funeral was almost a relief after all of that pain except that I saw my parents in a new light, the same light you saw your parents in, and it was bitter. But I've come to realize that time does these sorts of things and it is unavoidable. The question isn't how to avoid death, it is how to best remember your parents.

My advice is to celebrate the victories in their lives and be there as much as possible for them when things go badly and to remember one last thing. While it's hard for a son to bury his parents but it is infinitely harder for a parent to bury their son.

FDChief said...

Pluto: you're right, and thanks for both the wisdom and the kind words.

walternatives said...

That hit hard, Chief. I'm sincerely sorry for your shadowed heart.

My folks are aging - definitely. But they're also having the time of their lives, being freshly retired. I want to remember them this way, too.

walternatives said...

p.s. Please take me for one of those pancakes next time we visit.