We get in the car and drive into town for pizza. They are both full of chatter, interrupting each other, talking over each other, and then bickering about it. I am smiling and relieved and happy just to be with them, to hear their voices, but also bummed because now I have to run interference and one of them is going to be hurt or feel irritated and our time together is so short that I hate to have it marred by that. Experience has shown that one of the two has the unfortunate tendancy to hold a grudge and be upset for hours at the merest slight.
But that is what a mom does, runs interference between siblings, reminds children of manners (even amongst their siblings!) and doesn't let a childs moodiness ruin a moment for everyone. So I am the mom, and I hold up a hand, and I use my cowboy accent to call out a "hold up there a minute outlaws!" and tonight I am lucky because they laugh and we regroup and then we are pulling into the restaurant and everything is fine.
We bounce out of the car, the three of us, and collide in front of it. My girl leans into me for a hug and there is such need and want and ache rolling off of her that I can feel it. She closes her eyes and sighs deeply, a small curve of contentment on her lips as I wrap my arms around her and press my lips into her soft freckled cheek. I wonder if she can feel my own need and want and ache rolling off of me? My son stands, awkward and lanky, all gangly legs and arms right next to us, embarrassed that there is this hugging thing going on right in the parking lot and not wanting to be identified by anyone he knows.
We order and get drinks and find a table. Seated, the chatter begins again. My son had high school orientation and I drag the details out of him word by word - chatter about nothing is easy but to tell your parent about something they are asking about is teenage torture.
He's entering high school. He's grown and changed so much this year and I've missed so many of the tiny little moments that are normally taken for granted but matter in a foundational way. I think the missing of those things hurts more than the missing of the big things. He's taller than me, weighs more, shaves, has pimples, his voice sounds more like a mans voice now and I missed the journey that got him to this place. When I left, when I thought it was just a couple of weeks until he'd be with me again, he was smaller, lighter, younger, smoother - still recognizable as my little boy in most ways. Now I see my little boy only in brief glimpses; the flash in his eye when he teases me, the sound of his laughter.
My girl sits close to me, nearly on me, nestled into my side, arm pressed into mine. She too is different, having grown right into puberty full force, and the feel of her body is at odds with my memory of how she should feel, all pressed into me the way she is. She is not yet taller than me but it won't be long. She weighs more than me now though, is more solid and sturdy than a year ago. She is going to be such a lovely young woman. Her eyes are so beautiful and I love the crazy wild freckles so abundant on her face. She has skin that feels to me like I imagine a rain laden cloud might feel: full, warm, rich, comforting.
We eat, laughing like crazy at the pre-schooler sitting at a table behind us and his determination to drink the salt from the saltshaker. His mothers voice is hissing, "I said stop licking the salt shaker!" and we are doing that silent shaking laughter with the occasional snort or squeak.
It feels good.
The bookstore and some mindless browsing. I'm irritated but keep it hidden when my son is constantly texting with his friends. This is MY time, and its so precious to me, but he is a teenager and he is normal and he is just doing what teenagers do. He shouldn't have to spend every second focused on me just because I miss him so much. I know he misses me too, but his friends ARE the essence of his life and he has to separate and become this independant soul and I want to honor that. My daughter finds a book quickly but I am dismayed at the cost - I can't afford it - I am heartbroken at not being able to give her this gift, a book, something so reasonable. I simply say I'm sorry but she will have to find one for about half of the cost. She remembers that she has money at home and thinks maybe we can share the cost and I am thrilled to know I can do this. I smile, she smiles, we are both content with this. My son finds a magazine, turns his nose up at every book suggestion I make, and I remember my oldest daughter doing this at the same age. I am no less irritated though at the ridiculous snubbing of so many fabulous books I am offering to buy. He calls his dad and makes a deal so his dad will buy his magazine for him and he is smug with me. I have just been relegated to seriously unimportant and useless. I sigh. Oh buddy, I say. He has the sense to look ashamed of his ploy. We pay and I can't shake the little grief that has lodged again in my heart.
Driving home we chatter, tell jokes and stories, and plan for our next time together. At their house, the one that is still mine but that I'm not allowed inside of, we hug. And this time my son hugs me right there in the driveway, in public for anyone to see; he holds me for a while, lets me rub his back and smooth his hair and streeeetch up to kiss his cheek. We hug several times while trying to say goodbye, and finally I shoo them into the house and I climb into my car.
On the way home I cry.