Today a decade
I’m almost never up before Noah on school days. In fact, most mornings he’s the one waking me with a gentle shake, fully dressed, breakfasted, and bookbagged, to kiss me goodbye before disappearing into the dark outside for the 6:45 a.m. bus. Today though, I crept into his room while the house still slept, beating his 6 a.m. alarm to its pre-dawn punch.
Good morning, 10-year old.
He blinked and stretched and craned his head toward the clock. “I’ve been 10 for twelve minutes,” he said. He closed his eyes again, half-smile on his face, and slung an arm around my neck. “And now you’ve been a mom for 10 years.”
Happy birthday to you, kid. Happy birthday to us.
All of his birthdays have felt momentous, but this one especially so. Maybe it’s the double digits. Maybe it’s because he’s my first kid. Maybe it’s the word decade. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m 36. Maybe it’s a lack of sleep. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
I wonder sometimes if I became a writer the day Noah was born. I remember sitting in the recovery room that morning, not able to take my eyes off the bundle of blankets and baby in my arms, feeling the weight of everything I’d done up to that moment come crashing down like a big heavy truth. It was right and it was scary and it was overwhelming and it was exhilarating all at once. This is forever, I remembered thinking, like I’d only just learned the word two hours before.
Since then I’ve been chasing words, hoping to create sentence time capsules to hold all my big heavy truths.
At the beginning of her memoir Having Babies, Irish novelist Anne Enright says:
“I also have to apologize to my children for writing about their baby selves; either too much, or not enough, or whatever changing way this book takes them, over the years. My only excuse is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.”
Noah (and his sister and brother after him) made me want to say what it was like.
This Thursday, Noah will compete in the school spelling bee. Every night for the last few weeks, we’ve snuggled up in bed, or sprawled on the couch, or faced each other across the kitchen table, firing words and letters back and forth to practice. On the list is the word nostalgia, which Noah kept spelling n-a-s-t-o-l-g-i-a, until I started saying “NO, you don’t start NOstalgia that way” to make him laugh, and also to help him remember how to spell it.
The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, meaning “return home,” and algos, meaning “pain.” The year I was pregnant with Noah, Luke and I saw the movie Garden State, which we both loved. (To this day, if I hear any of the music from the soundtrack, I can see a tiny baby Noah with newly-minted dad Luke doing “exercises” on the floor of our tiny apartment to the beat of the songs.) One of my favorite quotes from the movie is “Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” Last year when Noah turned 9, I realized that—assuming he goes away to college at 18—he’s halfway through the years he’ll live in our home with us full time. Which means: We are in the midst of our family’s imaginary place.
I already have nostalgia for it.
The night before Noah was born, I ate chocolate cake. Went out with friends for dinner and a movie, then settled down for the night with books in bed before turning out the light. But the light never went out that night. Instead, with a pop and a gush, I catapulted into motherhood before the sun had a chance to rise on the next day. At 5:42 a.m. Noah arrived with arms outstretched, hands reaching toward my shining face. Neither of us have been the same since.
On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that it is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk thought the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
Happy birthday to my Noah. Beneath your skin will always be light.