Love Letter

Love Letter

Bruce and I don’t have children. It was a decision we made for ourselves, by default when we were young, and consciously, deliberately when we were older and up against the hard deadline of biology. We don’t question our choice; it was right for us. Other people did and do still question our decision, and I’ve always said we were busy with other things. Or I put it in the context of the times we came up in; my generation of women was, in practical terms, the first to have a choice (made possible by reliable and accessible birth control). But in truth, I believe there are wrong reasons to have children, and we were careful to discern and dismiss those. In the end we are comfortable with our mortality. We have no need to fix our families of origin. We have no need to live vicariously. We like ourselves. We are not lonely. We are rather modest people, and see no need to re-produce ourselves; we are enough. Nor do we have anything to prove: we are not religious or ideological, so we do not work through others. And we have a surfeit of outlets for creative expression.

Yet some of our best friends are children. We stand in as parents, godparents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or older siblings for the children in our neighborhood, the young colleagues whom we teach and mentor, and the multigenerational progeny of our friends. They are collectively an easy, great joy. We welcome them just as they are and exactly as they grow into who they will be. We are their mirrors, their safe place, their experimental space. We witness. Every visit is Christmas; they are the gifts we forever unwrap.

Of course they fall into piles – some are Bruce’s, others more mine. But Printha is ours together, seamlessly and fluidly among us, with us, within us. We follow her cue and we are present, expansive, whole, one, unrestricted and unencumbered, effortlessly aware. What I take away from our time with her – what we notice and remember – is her relentless becoming.

She tries out everything we are and do, and more. At four she claims a seat in studio, to draw and make beaded necklaces. At four and a half she sets the table attending to color and texture and pattern. At five, on a step-stool, she pulls the knife from my hand, insistently, and cuts the cucumber, tomato, and carrots with deliberation, then arranges the vegetables on salad plates in thoughtful designs, uniquely for each plate, each person, each meal.

Nothing is special, yet everything is. She learns the calls of cardinals, she draws and colors a catbird and next the pot of sedum on the patio. She whistles, surprisingly, unexpectedly, so we give her a CD “The Whistler” which she listens to at bedtime, every night for years. She takes the broom out of my hands to sweep the sidewalk, she helps Bruce to rake the leaves and prune branches, she conquers the manual lawnmower, even though she is slight. She sings, beautifully. She knows all the animals on our street tame and wild; she names the squirrels. She learns Scrabble and Boggle, Parcheesi and Monopoly and she wants to win but loses well enough. She learns from her losses; one day soon enough she will beat us. She and Bruce make domino constructions, and then find elaborate video examples to marvel at. She announces that she wants to be a baker, so she and Bruce make biscotti. The lengthy process challenges her patience – “it smells sooo goood …” – her lament as she falls onto the couch. On the front porch she reads to us from her Greek Myths and Heroes book to make us laugh at the snark. She tells jokes, but refuses to laugh at Bruce’s “dad jokes” or my elephant jokes. She is herself. Out in the world she makes art in nature – little Goldsworthy-esque interventions wherever the inclination finds her. She takes my hand lovingly, carefully to guide me across the street, or towards something she wants me to see. And every visit she asks for a story of when she or her sister was younger, laughing uncontrollably as we tell it, whether or not she has heard it before, whether or not she remembers herself. She knows and loves what it means: that we paid attention. She uses it to grow. We pay attention, and she grows before our eyes.

I do not quite understand the alchemy – really, I am caught by surprise every time we see her – but I can guess this becoming space must be one of the best parenthood offers – a place to be so present, and only present. If we’d had an inkling of this experience we might have chanced it. I don’t second guess our choice, though, I know we made the right one.

Only this path could have brought her to us.

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