I looked at my sweet boy who seemed to be transforming before my eyes. His bouncing curls had all but disappeared, and his course hair now only yielded a hint of a wave around his cowlick. His ankles peeked through the bottom of his jeans that are now two inches off of the ground, and he was schooling his little sister about whales and sound waves as he helped her put on her shoes. A spontaneous tear rolled down my cheek. “Why are you crying?” he asked. Even his voice was changing. “Are you sad because now I’m FIVE and pretty soon I will be a teenager and won’t want to hold your hand?” “In a way, I suppose.” I replied, wiping away my sad/happy tear. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that!” he huffed as he ran past me. “I will hold your hand forever. I PROMISSSSSSSSSSE!” The final “s” of promise extended into a mimed web attack as he zoomed down the stairs in his new Spider-Man suit – a birthday present he had just opened.
To say I am nostalgic is, well, let’s just say that a few weeks ago I took a mini road trip, listened to a MA$E CD in my car, and almost cried as I remembered when I first got my driver’s license and played this very album – on repeat – with all the windows down, letting the summer air fill my baby blue Subaru Loyal, making me feel so free. If the very fact that the words CD and MA$E are in the same sentence (not to mention that I still HAVE the CD) doesn’t prove my nostalgic tendencies, I don’t know what will. I blame my dad, who is the founding paver of memory lane. We went to a mall once when I was in college, and I lost him in the sea of bustling holiday shoppers. I later found him sitting by himself on a bench, getting teary-eyed as little kids lined up to sit on Santa’s lap. I quickly whisked him away and told him he was one piece of candy away from being arrested, knowing full well he was just reminiscing about when I was that age. I love this about my dad, even though I give him trouble for it. He truly lives in and appreciates every moment with his whole heart – over and over again.
My severe, inherited, nostalgia makes milestones blissfully difficult and preparing to send my firstborn child to kindergarten has been no exception. I suddenly felt surrounded by loss. I even put off turning in his enrollment forms until the very last minute and found myself on the day of the deadline, an hour before the school’s office closed, with a dog that needed to be walked, a little sister who needed a nap, and a five-year-old who really wanted to ride his bike to his new school so that he could push the blinking pedestrian lights at the crosswalk. Nothing like a little crunch-time to prevent me from becoming a blubbering mess. I grabbed my dog’s leash and stuffed my daughter into the stroller, something I hadn’t done in months as that girl does NOT like to be confined, but I didn’t have it in me to chase two littles and a furball, especially with a clock running. So I bribed her with her ciuccio (Italian for pacifier) and in she went. As we hustled along the half mile we needed to go towards the school, I watched my son in the distance as he turned into more and more of a speck only recognizable by the blinking red lights on his new spiked bike helmet, another birthday present.
I was aware his lack of training wheels. Another loss.
I looked down and saw my daughter’s legs hanging over the side of the stroller and remembered when I couldn’t even see her feet because she was swaddled in a gauzy blanket. I realized that her stroller days (even if used only when in a pinch) are numbered. Another loss.
We kept rushing down the street, and I started to feel like I was chasing time itself.
As we handed over our forms and signed our names on the VISITOR list, a boy, probably 11 or 12, shuffled in ahead of us, head hung low. When the Office Manager asked what he needed, he said that someone stole his lunch out of his locker again and asked to use the phone to call his dad. My son’s ears perked up and his eyes widened. “Why would someone take your lunch?!” he asked, flabbergasted. The older boy shrugged and started dialing. I just wanted to hug the boy and tell him that it gets better, so much better. I wanted to assure him that this is not end of the road and that it really is just up from here, even if it’s a slow climb. Middle school can be brutal.
We got our neon visitor stickers and ventured down the hallway towards some rendition of Kool & The Gang’s Celebration courtesy of the the school’s orchestra practice. We just wanted to get a feel for the place where he could potentially be spending the next eight years, since this school is K-8. Every turn we took, I saw my son’s eyes grow wider and wider, and then he subconsciously reached up and grabbed my hand. I felt my heart breathe a sigh of relief that at least for now, he was making good on his five-year-old promise to me.
We finished our brief informal tour (he was most excited about the gym and the lockers) and started the journey home. As we walked out, Roman said that he was worried that the boy in the office would starve and wanted to go buy him another lunch. If he can maintain this way of thinking, I say to myself, we’re going to be okay. I also sent up a silent wish that he will never steal another person’s lunch and will share whatever we has with a lunch-less comrade should the situation arise.
Later that day, we stopped for coffee and chocolate chip cookies at the Fat Hen, one of our favorite neighborhood spots. As we started talking with the owner, Linnea, I had a flashback to right after my son was born, when I had mustered the energy to put on my slippers and stumble three blocks down the road to purchase the very same thing. On that day, Linnea asked me how motherhood was treating me as she put the delicious, warm, cookies I had ordered into a bag. I went on to tell her that the night before, I slept fully clothed in my bed, boots and all. She gave me a sympathetic smile and we continued to chat about life with a newborn. I paid for my goodies and as I reached to grab the bag, she gave my hand a little squeeze and then gifted me an extra stack of my favorite cookies. “This is because I told you I slept in my boots last night isn’t it?” I asked. She laughed and sweetly shrugged. I still feel like those cookies and honest conversations may have just saved my life during that time and although I still frequently fall asleep in my coat, sleeping in shoes is one loss that I am not going to miss. Now, here we were standing in that very same spot chatting about elementary schools. A place I couldn’t even fathom being in five years ago in my boot-clad stupor.
Suddenly, mid-sentence, I was aware of the quiet. My two, generally shrieking or gabbing kiddos were inaudible which is never a good sign. They were no longer in the restaurant. I walked out and didn’t see them on the sidewalk either. Just as I was about to work my way up into a mild panic, I saw it. A single dandelion tucked under the windshield wiper of a parked car, and another one on the car behind it, and one on the car beyond that, and so on. I also saw the yellow blossoms on the doorsteps of the houses to my left. I kept walking and sure enough, my little dandelion deliverers were around the corner, placing the little sunshine pompoms with such care as a little offering for all of our neighbors. My son once gave a man who came to our house to repair a shattered shower door (don’t ask) a handful of acorns and dandelions, a gesture that not only earned us a 20% discount on our estimate but also furthered my appreciation of humanity. This is what tipped me off on his yellow track when I couldn’t find him.
In this season of relentless sentimentality, I am attempting to remember that every beginning is rooted in some sort of ending and that can be as exciting as it is melancholic. I may be feeling a loss, but my kids are in the midst of opportunity and that is what’s important. My son is on the precipice of a whole new world, one that is all his own, and that’s extraordinary.
I’m still sad that MA$E isn’t coming back into the limelight anytime soon, although I did just hear that Ashanti and Ja Rule are coming to the Showbox Theater in Seattle this August, so maybe I shouldn’t give up hope just yet. Perhaps this is also a sign that nothing ever completely ends. (Okay, that’s just the nostalgia talking).
I find comfort that through all of these changes, if I ever want to know who or where my son is, I can always follow the trail of dandelions, even if it is just a memory.
Marissa B. Niranjan is a hopeless nostalgic who fully plans of tormenting her children with stories of the good ol’ days and is not sorry about it.