When Children Grow

I tucked myself in the floorboard of the Subaru, my back against the floor curve and my legs reaching into the seat. A plastic blaster in either hand, I scanned the galaxy for any sign of Imperial scum. I was the gunner of the Millennium Falcon, and Princess Leia was my pilot. "You've gotta shake 'em!" I shouted. Leia took a sip of coffee from a travel mug, holstered it back in the cupholder and said, "I'm doing the best I can! There are too many of them!" I pivoted the turret of my imagination, spotted an encroaching tie fighter, and blew it into bits in the pale-blue sky with the mouth-sound of my blaster cannon.

"Our shields won't hold much longer!" I erupted, brow furrowing.

"Prepare to make the jump to hyper-space," she said, shifting into fifth gear.

It was 1982, the glory days of Star Wars and relaxed seatbelt laws, and my mother was carting my sister to school. Making our way down Texas backroads, I stared upward through windows, saw only the battlefield of my imagination. We were fighting for the Rebellion, struggling against the tyranny of the advancing Empire, and every morning we made this perilous journey. Every morning we arrived victorious.

I don't remember the morning it happened. I don't remember crawling from childhood into adolescence, but at some point, I stopped sitting with my back against the floorboard. I stopped propping my legs in the seat and making blaster sound effects. I didn't call my mother Leia anymore, or my sister Chewbacca. Instead, I sat upright, craning out the window into the Texas scrub. I called my mother, "mom," and barely spoke to my sister.

My imagination turned inward and private. I recited math formulas, grammar rules, or spelling test words. I dreamt of being a pilot of war planes, or of the names of the girls I thought were pretty.

[tweetherder]The summer of childhood turns to autumnal adolescence without warning.[/tweetherder]

***

On the morning commute, the boys and I listen to music at parentally irresponsible levels--Rich Mullins, The Beatles, Queen, John Denver. We sing, dance, and laugh as Titus nails the chorus of "Rucy in the sky, wiff DI-mon!" It is our boyish ritual.

Yesterday, we pulled into the school drop-off line, van swaying to the tune of "Yellow Submarine." Stopped near the back of the line, a few of Isaac's classmates strolled past the mini-van on the sidewalk. Ike waived, then turned to the front.

"Dad, could you turn down the music?"

"Sure," I said, "but why?"

"It's kind of embarrassing. The boys in my class might hear it and make fun of us."

I reached for the volume knob, turned it to a whisper. Through the window, I saw the green grass rising to blue sky, the sky I once imagined as the zero-gravity stomping ground of Seth Skywalker. I considered my mother, how she must have felt when the scales of boyish naivety fell from my eyes, when the days of my ignorance to embarrassment faded. [tweetherder]One day she woke, and that was the day childhood wonder was defeated by the empire.[/tweetherder]

In stop-and-start fits, the boys and I made our way to the back of the school. At the rear entrance, Ian slid the door open. Three boys bounded from the van--fourth grade Isaac, second grade Jude, and first grade Ian. I saw them, and in my parental imagination, they shot up like fireworks, turned into adults with their own children in their own drop-off lines. They watched their children run to the schoolhouse door. And then, my children's children aged in a blink and were dropping their own off. I imagined the tyranny of this cycle, how childhood wonder always looses the war against early-onset adulthood.

Isaac slid the van door closed, took three steps forward, then stopped. As is his morning ritual--and has been since kindergarten--he looked back, waived, and smiled. I waived back, mouthed "I love you," and watched him turn away and run to a group of lanky fourth-graders gathered by the door.

There will be a day when Isaac no longer turns back and waives, and when Titus learns to pronounce "Lucy" and "with." Every season eventually passes. But while it's today, I'll store up these memories.

***

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Hold Me

Hold Me My youngest child an Ozark whisp, a collection of reed-thick bones and knobby joints, asks to hold me, reaching.

Hold me? I ask, and Intuiting toddler’s inverted language, our reaches meet, mine and his, and with a tensing lower back, I swing him to capable frame, to his pillow of neck and collarbone.

Hold me? I consider, and intuiting another coming inversion, I remember the way of life. There is my mother; how she cradled her father in his rising twilight; how her aging arms slipped under his thin-skinned shoulders and knobby knees. She bent, huddled, and whispered secrets of the wonders of a world without end.

Amen.

*****

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