June, 2015: Ten Years from Now, we used to say

For the next few days I'll be posting highlights from 2015. This was originally published June 4, 2015.
In the beginning, it was just us.

It was us when I stood over the toilet with the pregnancy test in my hands. It was us when I fell to the floor with my head in my hands, cones all over the road I had just finished paving.

I had a plan.

And you did, too.

And you were here.

I am not ready for you, I said. I'm not ready for this.

But I was. I knew I was. I knew nothing except that I was.

And your dad, who I had only just met, he knew it, too.

I passed him the pregnancy test and we cried.

We cried because we didn't know what we wanted. Because we were strangers. Children. Stupid kids... Because life is strange. We cried because, "ten years from now... what will our lives look like ten years from now..."

That was the question we asked the day we moved in together.

And the day we got married.

And the day you were born.

We held you between us and counted your fingers and toes. 

When you're young, time is a pacifier -- an ocean at sunrise, seemingly infinite, extending beyond the constraints of our viewfinders... 

There is hope in the unknown. In the light that casts its last shadows, for tomorrow we will grow up a little more. Tomorrow we will be better. We will know more about ourselves and the world...

"Where do you think we'll be in ten years?" we asked you, fresh and young, bloated and scared, estranged and invisible...

But we never had an answer until now.

In February of 2007, when Archer was  a year and a half old, I wrote this: 

...It was a reflex, they told me. Hold your pinky out and he will grab on. He won't let go. And he didn't. And I didn't want him to. And sometimes he held my ring finger. Or my pointer finger or my thumb. And when he was learning to walk he would hold two fingers, one from each hand and I'd say, "come on! You can do it!" and he'd smile and fall on his face, his hands slipping from my fingers....Until he grabbed on again. Pulling himself back up. "Hold on tight!" Today, for the first time, Archer didn't want to take my finger. We were walking down the stairs outside our house and instead of grabbing my finger, he took my hand. My whole hand. So our palms were against each other and our fingers met and we continued down the stairs. For the first time, hand in hand. Because I think maybe his hand was too big for fingers. Because he is too big for fingers. Today he was.He doesn't have the finger-grabbing reflex anymore. It goes away when they get big. I know because night after night I put my finger in his hand and wait for it to wrap around me like a sea anemone and it doesn't. The finger reflex goes away. Just like the startling reflex when babies raise their hands and shake their arms when they're sleeping and someone makes a loud sound. One day it just stops...

I remember that day well. He was suddenly a boy...  holding onto my hand like a friend would... without clinging, without squeezing... and it broke me.

Because this is what happens now...

Babies become boys.

I have told Archer this story a thousand times by now.

"One day you held my hand instead of my finger..."

Last month, someone mentioned this Billy Collins poem in the comments of my post. And it broke my heart because, yes. Because, no. Because, fuck!!!

On Turning Ten
By: Billy Collins

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that 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 through 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 could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

- Billy Collins

I remember being ten years old and feeling the wind change like that. Ten was the year my diary went from "I love horses" to boys boys BOYS. Ten was also the year I stepped out of the shadows and into the light of my own truth. It was the year I started sharing myself with others, opening my diaries and reciting poems in front of the class.

Ten was the year I asked my friends to call me Bec. 

I didn't share the "On Turning Ten" poem with Archer. Too heartbreaking. Instead, as I do on every birthday,  I went through his baby book to weep for the childhood that was... except... for some reason... it didn't feel sad. It felt... I don't know... exciting? New? Significant, sure... but in a level way. Unlike May 23rds of the past, I didn't want to "keep him small" or "go back in time." I wanted to stand exactly where I was standing with my son exactly as he is.

I opened to the middle of the baby book and plucked one of the letters I wrote to Archer while I was pregnant with him.  Still sealed... unread... 

"Can we open one today?" I asked. "Just one?"

"Not until I'm 18, Mom. It says right here. Do not open until you're 18."

"But... that's a long time."

"Not that long, Mom."

Over the weekend, we celebrated Archer's birthday in Palm Springs. The boys (we brought Archer's best friend along) spent two entire days on their own, coming back to find us for lunch and then taking off again... It was the first time he was old enough to go out on his own with his friend and come back whenever... It was the first time I didn't worry about him as the hours passed.

"He's fine. He's having fun. He's doing his thing..."
It was a milestone.

Like learning to walk.

Like letting go of my finger.

Except this time it was he who brought it to my attention. With his eyes and his words and the proclamation that THIS? This, was "the trip of a lifetime..."

No more Runaway Bunny... 

"This is the other side of fear," I thought. "This is where we learn to love the idea of letting go."

And I did.

Run free, kid. Go forth and waterslide. 

Archer didn't want to turn ten. He told me this a dozen times leading up to his birthday. He wants to stay a little boy in single digits. At his age, I wanted to be older so badly that I prayed for it. I wrote it down in diaries. I threw pennies in every fountain and closed my eyes

If only I were older...

If only I were a teenager...

If only I were in my twenties...

It's different for boys, I think. Or maybe it's just us...

"I wish I didn't have to leave fourth grade..."

"... go to middle school."

"... become a man."

A couple of weeks ago, Archer called me into the dining room after school. He had finished the song he'd been working on for a school project and he was finally  ready to share. (I'd been asking to see his lyrics for weeks and he refused to show me. "Not until it's finished," he said.) 

We gathered around him, sisters included, and waited in silence as he pressed PLAY. We knew it was going to be the greatest song we'd ever heard but we didn't know how great until we were listening with wet cheeks. I tried to play it cool but I was in pieces. 

He didn't mind. 

"The inspiration for this song was one of my first memories. I was a baby and I was in my crib and I didn't call for my mom to get me.  I didn't try to climb out either. I just looked up at the ceiling and thought about life," Archer said when he presented his song to his class and a room full of parents.

I thought about what he said about not wanting to grow up... 

And then I listened to him answer his own questions and comfort himself with his own words...his own voice. 
"Ten years from now..." we used to say.

Not anymore. Something happened in the course of a decade. We all grew up a little bit and instead of gazing out at the unknown, turned toward the moment. Toward him.

I stopped mourning your youth as something lost and instead learned to celebrate the young man that was suddenly emerging.

"This is the year I found my power," you told me, in passing. "This was the year I became unafraid to REALLY sing..."

It would be impossible not to look back on days like today... on the last day of fourth grade with my newly double-digited son, and not feel that certain sense of longing... for days past and milestones long behind us. And yet, for the first time, my longing for yesterday has been eclipsed by my willingness to stand on the edge of this moment and see Archer as he is now, anticipating, with great excitement, the young man he is becoming.

I catch glimpses of the young man in the same way I catch glimpses of the little boy... the baby with his watchful gaze. The light seems to catch him at different angles these days. There was once an urge to trap that light... to keep it to myself... to savor it and protect it and shelter it from the inevitable. I don't feel that way anymore. I see his prism and want to pull every wall from around him so that his light can shoot clear across the land. I want him to go forth...

And come back.

But also to go...

I'm not afraid of his skinned knees because I know he is capable of bandaging them. I am not afraid of his sadness because sadness is joy's before and after and young love is like walking on the moon. Because there is magic in complexity and treehouses are forever. Because I know he sees the same light in himself that we do. And on the days when he can't help but draw his own blinds, I know that he knows that we're here, with our mirrors and our flashlights and our letters. 

Perhaps this is what it feels like to prepare for the inevitable, I think, strapping training wheels to my sides...  pushing forward on a bike it will take me another eight years to learn to ride.

But I'm ready.

I even tell him so.

Transitions are beautiful places to sit and talk.


"How does it feel to be ten?" I ask him on the morning of his birthday.

"I feel exactly the same," he says, "even though I'm not."

I lean back in my chair on the other side of the kitchen table.

"I know exactly what you mean."

And in this moment, it is just us.

Without a plan.


I tell him the same story I do every year on his birthday. I tell him about the morning he came into our lives ten years ago and how... and how... and how...

...And then I sing his song back to him at the top of my lungs as he corrects every lyric I get wrong, until he, too, is singing... our voices bumping up against each other in the late morning light.