Your Mother Thinks You’re Ninja By Tracey Barnett ©May 2011
“I’m no more your mother/Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect it’s own slow/Effacement at the wind’s hand.”- Sylvia Plath
Maybe every third day I wake up to someone sitting on the edge of my bed with a form in one hand, my wallet in the other and never, ever a pen. “Could you sign this?” they ask, damp hair dripping onto the page, while he or she leafs through the last two fives for the fees.
“Pen,” I mumble, sitting up in bed, moving with crusted authority from comatose to commander. This is what I do. Sign things. Cycling camps, soccer photos, death warrants, affidavits applauding their last serial murder before term two school holidays. It is the thin tether that connects my illusion of authority to their lives.
As if. As if you ever had any. That much you know. Because you learned long ago that this whole thing—this pot roast-sized baby who turned into a glimpse of forehead in a Harry Potter book, who turned into a dishtowel snapper on three, then two, and soon enough four wheels—is not yours to hold at all. It has taken thirteen or sixteen years to get it. They never were.
Now when he unfolds beside you like a question mark waiting for a backrub, his feet extending beyond yours, his abandoned babyhood belongs to another solar system in another matrix, somewhere between The Simpsons and platform 9 ¾.
You tell yourself you’ll remember this time, but you don’t.
Only rarely, when you least expect it, as you bend down to gather up the dead pile of yesterday’s newspapers, you catch one glimpse and truly see. My daughter’s profile when she piles her hair up against the wall as we talk on her bed. The stretch of her neck as the study light throws it in relief. Your son’s hockey feet sticking out at 90 degrees. His newly stretched legs on a stick insect frame that seems to float down the hall, propelled along like walking graffiti strokes. There are on-purpose steps too. Those involve food or leaving.
You tell her, when you carried her, it never occurred to you what she would look like. What you wondered most was the first time you would ever hear her voice.
And now you know. That you listen to the way she hums when slouched over her homework in a messy pile at the kitchen table. That you wish you could have written down his repartee in the car after practice when the windshield wipers gave it cadence he didn’t notice.
As new parents, we enshrine early childhood under a snow globe. But these years melt into your DNA unsung. You hardly notice how much you value the peace of having one of them still want to face-plant themselves beside you in your bed, the teen equivalent of “pet me, I’m back—for now”.
You don’t really remember when you stopped taking pictures as much. When the lens somehow got wider, moving from close-ups of toddler faces with outstretched arms flying in pillow case wings, to distant wide shots of prize giving.
They take the pictures now, posing with their friends with the kind of abandon you only see like headlights receding smaller into the possibilities of the night ahead.
Things are due; their life is a litany of future tense. Peer counsel, Youth UN, orienteering, the Teletubby party costume to figure out, Saturday’s race, another sleepover, two essays, a mid-term. Totally invisible to them, you wonder how the naked look of promise could ever get bigger.
You have no idea why they bronze baby shoes, because the mangy, giant sneakers in a pile by the door say so much more. Not who they will be, but who they are becoming.
They have no idea you were another person when they were small. What they can’t yet see is that you have both grown up. You used to make him laugh by chasing him with the vacuum cleaner. Now he makes you laugh as he does the last three minutes verbatim as Bruce of Family Guy.
What you can’t tell them now is that you will always see them with more unfinished beauty, more uncontained perfection that isn’t anywhere near perfect, than any lover will over a lifetime. That you see them clearer than they see themselves. At least that is a parent’s last conceit.
What comes out of your mouth is, drink more fluids. He figures that means have more water fights, because water fights are Ninja.
It may be another decade before it ever occurs to them you are a woman separate from a mother. The funny thing is, on the first day your first child is born; you know immediately you will never again be able to separate the two.
More than anything, I want to say to my mother, I understand now.
Call your mother on Sunday.