They made bubbles right out on the lawn at dusk.
As if you can lift the thin skin of things.
As if you can wait for the space between stillness and wind, and rise.
Malakai, he wears faded jeans two inches too short, the hem just skimming the milky whites of his ankles.
Like the kid just escaped from some flood plain, some dike country.
Like his mother can never keep up and the kid looks like a ragamuffin stuffed on grace.
Shalom wears socks. Teal socks stealing right out on to the grass, shoes never occurring or unfurling anywhere in her blooming mind.
The roasting pan is Oma Voskamp’s, the one she left to me, all gleamy steel, to baste turkeys in.
That’s the one they’re slapping a bubble sluice around in. But really, c’mon now– who needs meat and bone when you can gnaw on the sheer sheen of light? Kai’s bare toes look like invitation.
I used to cup that bare heel of his, the way it dangled when he kept swallowing the leaking milk down. The way motherhood curdled time in me, and I thought they’d be little and here forever, close.
I thought there’d always be sand and Tonkas and footed pajamas, and always a place at the table and their shoes at the back door. I thought there’d always be stacks of picture books and read alouds and legos everywhere. I thought we’d defy time, that they’d grow up and stay little, that we’d have our cake and eat it too and we’d have it all. A head can think otherwise but somehow a heart can feel wiser.
Shalom runs to catch one wobbly bubble lifting, holding her hands right out.
As if you can hold on to hallowed skins.
“Don’t crush it, Shalom!” Kai yells at her across the lawn. “Let it go!”
You don’t get to keep. You get to witness. Shalom laughs as it rises.
You don’t get always. You get awe. “See it, Kai? See it?” She can’t stop clapping.
If you don’t take it all as gift, you end up taking it all for granted — which amounts to not taking anything good from life at all. “How do you make each smallest bubble so big and grand, Kai? HOW?”
They stay out late. Until the turkey roasting pan has no bubble feast left.
I can’t leave them, the witnessing.
There’s soup for supper.
And a disaster of dishes all over the counter.
And Caleb giving us the Coles notes version of Austrian economics versus Keynesian.
And why Margaret Thatcher wasn’t truly libertarian.
And Levi asking if the soil temperature is ready for planting beans yet and Kai negotiating for Copper Marans hens because he’ll feed and water them everyday, promise.
Shalom’s drinking soup out of her bowl like a cup, evening light spilling all down her.
And the phone rings somewhere on that messy counter. And we stop, all of us stop and listen, the answer machine recording.
“This is admissions from Trinity Western University,” her voice is high and chirpy, and what is that lump low in my throat?
“And we were wondering if we might set up an appointment to speak to Caleb about his scholarship and possible acceptance?”
And I shake my head no.
No. No we cannot set up an appointment to talk about our farm boy with a cow-lick and big dreams driving 3,600 miles across the span of a country and leaving us and here and this table.
No, no, I’m not ready for now to be over, for the kid who wore a tool belt strapped around him everywhere to leave, the boy who can drive a tractor and wrestle hogs and reads Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” just for fun — just to go. He drove me crazy. He drove me to God. He drove me to love. I don’t care what anyone says — You can cut umbilical cords but you can’t cut heart strings.
You can’t sever the sinews of a family, the way the grass under the swing and the loudness of living and the doors slamming and butter dripping corn on the cob on the porch all get into all of you and how we wind around each other so maybe we never leave each other, only carry each other? I look down to the end of the table.
And the oldest son, he’s looking at his Dad and I and he’s nodding his yes.
The boy, he’s 17 and he’s towheaded and 7 all over again and I’m watching the way a bubble lingers and lifts and he looks me in the eye, asking without words, and my chin trembles, fragile too, and the words smile and push brave around that lump:
“Isn’t that what Dr. Seuss had said?
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
And I laugh brave.
And the boy nods brave.
And every milestone moment always forks and you get to choose which road you’ll go — bitter or blessed.
And the Happening People smile because it happened at all.
“Dr. Seuss said really that?” Hope pours a cup of water, looks over at her grinning, brimming mama.
“And I know what else he said!” Shalom pushes back her chair, already running — and singsong her Dr. Seuss book back to the table:
“A, a, a, What begins with A?”
And I can close my eyes and say it –” Aunt Annie’s Alligator, A, A, a.”
And it comes, like all the years, all the laps and all their heads on shoulders, all their eyelashes dozing off. “Big B, Little b, What begins with B?
Barber baby bubbles and a bumblebee.”
“You remember the whole book, Mama?” Shalom leans across the table, book in hand and big-eyed.
And I can see it on the page and how they each felt close, pressing in: “BIG V little v
Vera Violet Vinn is very very very awful in her violin.
Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo Woo.”
And Shalom laughs giddy and I look around the table at the sheen on now and all their faces, the hallowed skin of them all rising, and how was there any of this at all?
And I witness each of them, nod at the lanky boy at the end of the table, at time and the passing of a season, at the thinness of everything drifting and how life just keeps meaning change.
Don’t grieve that it’s gone, wonder that it was.
Laugh that you lived and dance that you dared.
Inhale that it happened — and it was grace.
And I memorize the light and the mess of us and the ABC’s of living and them all here and us right now and that — that is how to make the smallest life big and grand —
The best way to prepare for what’s ahead is to be present to what is now.
Be present to the gift of now.
And right then —
the sheer sheen of grace on everything lights.