In (belated) honor of Mother’s Day, I thought that I would share a post that I wrote in 2011. I think that Asher was about 18 months old when I wrote this, but I’m pretty sure that I will be thinking about these car window down moments when he’s 40.
Car Windows Down
Yesterday when I picked Asher up I instinctively reached for the AC button, not wanting the car to be too hot or too cold and started to roll the windows up. Before I clicked the button though, I looked in the backseat to see Asher’s downy red hair blowing straight up in the wind and he had both arms up in the air feeling the wind move through his fingertips with his eyes closed and the biggest grin on his tipped up face. He was feeling the world, I could see it.
He was so beautiful in that moment.
So instead of rolling the windows up, I rolled the other two down and we drove on for 35 miles in the noisy sunshine filled cabin of our car singing the ABCs a little too loudly (me) and waving arms wildly in the wind (him) and as I was cruising down the highway a thought filtered through my mind that was so striking I had to stop in the middle of L-M-N-O-P to catch my breath.
I’ve known my whole life that this moment with my child was coming.
My mom used to pick me up from Mr. Ron’s (if you want to see my mama get all atwitter, ask her about Mr. Ron sometime) where I spent my preschool days doing the things that kids in Montessori preschools do. One of my earliest and most distinct memories is of one of those afternoons in the car with my mom, or most likely a lot of those afternoons mashed into one golden moment; memory is broad-sweeping in its desire to distill. Anyway, she worked as an educator in the hospital and so her workdays were marked in my mind with skirts and suit jackets, but in this memory I see her as I so often did, driving down the highway with all of the windows down in our blue Toyota Tercel (later dubbed the Blue Goose by my brother) both of our hair flying, her skirt pulled up over her knees, jacket off and in the passenger seat, fingers claiming a little of the blowing hair with her left hand and twirling it absentmindedly with her elbow crooked on the rim of the open window, her right hand on the steering wheel. And that’s it, that’s the extent of the memory, but there we are, two women at opposite sides of the female spectrum, and I remember how free I felt, and I remember thinking how free she must have felt too. I remembering thinking, we’re in this thing together.
Yesterday, in my own car, with my own son in the backseat, I could see the images of my mother and myself superimposed over the joy-filled bodies of Asher and me and it was one of those halting full-circle moments. To feel that long-ago formed memory from the child’s perspective, I see my mother that I loved, confidently driving us home to dinner and bedtime kisses, patiently listening to me rattle on about all of the things that I never stopped talking about as a child. To feel that memory now from a mother’s perspective, I think about my mom knowing that she was going home to an unraveling marriage, that she would have to cook for us, get a little girl settled for sleep, and a budding teenage boy settled from his own brand of divorced heartache, and I wonder what thoughts swept through her mind as the wind filled our car and blew us on home.
Just a couple of years after those car window down drives home, my mom would fall in love with her life-long partner, my brother would disappear into the world of college, we would settle into the house that I came to know as my childhood home, and the car window down drives would be replaced with my adolescent desire to control everything with air conditioning and radio stations. But. I can’t help but think that I can still remember a little of that acute observance that young children possess, and that my 4-year-old mind was watching my mom closely to figure out how to be a woman one day. I can’t help but think that the beautiful abandon that I witnessed twenty five years ago reared its head again yesterday.
Part of parenthood is falling madly in love with your child, falling in love with parenting your child, learning your own thoughts and watching them change as you start to think like a parent. But another astonishing (and I mean that, I’m not being cute here) thing about becoming a parent is seeing your parents for the first time. It’s not like I didn’t know that was going to happen as one of the clichéd rites of passage into claiming a child as your own, that I didn’t know that I would one day empathize more with my parents than I ever believed possible, it’s just that I couldn’t have possibly known what it was going to feel like until it happened. It overwhelms me. Feeling what my mother in particular felt towards me, feeling the shame of abusing that love 1,000 times throughout my life, having an acute awareness of how potent it is, how fierce it is, how all-consuming it is to love a child, and finally understanding that I am on the receiving end of that love is overwhelming. It overwhelms me because it’s such a powerful gift, and because I realize that Asher may not ever know the depth of my feelings for him unless he decides to one day have a child of his own.
One of my wonderful friends has been talking recently about her strong desire to be able to genuinely and effectively express the breadth of her gratitude to her husband as they’ve become parents together. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because the truth is, there’s no gift that says thank you well enough when those are the kinds of the things on the table that you’re trying to thank someone for. What I’ve come up with is that the biggest expression of gratitude is in our actions, and in this case it’s in the way that we love. The kind of partner or parent or child or friend that we are and the level of thoughtful respect and care that we charge ourselves with in those roles. I will never know how to say thank you adequately enough to my parents, all four of you, but I do know how to love my child as much as I possibly can, and I can pledge part of that love as a devotion to all that you have given me in your own ways. I know that I will make mistakes as a mother, but I hope that in my triumphs my parents see a reflection of themselves and know that they are being honored and that I am, in my way, always whispering thank you.
My final thought is this: when Asher is in the backseat thinking his thoughts, is he observing a woman? Someone who rolls the windows down and sings badly and looks so grown up? Does he also see a skirt pulled up to free knees, an arm draped casually, a level of confidence that children assume comes with height? Sometimes I think he might, others I’m beyond sure that my shortcomings are palpable. In either case, I am reminded of what my little brain knew way back then, which is that if nothing else we’re in this thing together, wind blown hair and all, and then I just turn the radio up a little louder and marvel at my beautiful child and the inevitable truth that we are marching forward, steadily on.