A piece I wrote back in July on my birthday:
The rustic white wood paneled door opens wide into the sun-lit hallway.The clean smooth cotton of the pillow cradles my right cheek. I blink several times as the image in the hallway comes into greater focus. It is the 11 by 14 framed photograph of our four children I hung at the top of the stairs. I stare across the shadows of the bedroom, and directly at the picture illuminated by the morning July sun.
How old were the kids when this was taken? Luke is shoeless sitting in the front on the floor, flanked by his older brother Colton and his older sister Courtney. Coltons long legs are twisted to the side, Courtneys are bent underneath her pink smocked dress, and she is wearing a matching thin satin ribbon in her shoulder length hair. Her arm is wrapped around the front of Luke keeping him sitting upright. Behind, with arms folded and elbows wide is middle child Jack. His close-lipped smile looks like a response to a direction to stay still from the photographer at the JC Penny studio. They are all following instructions, holding a pose. I remember searching the racks in the boys department for three matching plaid shirts for the boys. The challenge was not finding sizes for a toddler, preschooler and second grader, it was keeping this crew together in the crowded Danbury Fair Mall. Luke was strapped into the stroller, Jack stood on the ledge behind the rear wheels, which also immobilized him in the confines of my arms. Then Colton and Courtney walked right next me, each with a hand on my pocket as I insisted. More often than not, shopping with all four kids was something I avoided. For the picture captured, framed and hung on this wall, I must have been successful in finding coordinating plaid button downs without losing a child or my mind. I do not remember their exact ages or my own age. I am guessing it was the spring or fall of 2000, which would have made me 35. They were small and I was the same height I am now.
It is my birthday today. I am 54 years old. In the two decades that have passed since that photo session many changes in the children have taken place before my eyes. Inches grown, baby teeth lost, crooked teeth straightened, puberty, growth as time marched on. Each birthday that passed for me can be chronicled not by how much my own physical appearance altered as I aged but by the rapid changes taking place in the four children we were raising. My recall of a certain year in my life is brought into clearer focus when I pinpoint the ages of the children. My 40th year? Ah, yes that was when Courtney started playing volleyball in Southlake in 3rd grade, Jack was in 1st grade (finally in a full day of school), and Colton had begun switching teachers in intermediate school. That year Luke was the preschool tag-along kid at my hip as I volunteered in the PTA and somehow fit in training for a triathlon. How about when I was 47? Hmmm, 2013? Colton was a sophomore in college, Courtney had just graduated and the youngest two would be attending high school together. I was reliving my childhood tennis days hitting groundstrokes in suburban Richmond, Virginia. How about at age 30? I had a six month old daughter and a two year old son. We lived in Northern California so I had reconnected with some old friends from college. Playdates at the Sacramento Zoo and mornings at the park filled my days.
My mind can find an age of my life more easily if I recount the stages of growth of my children. Bringing home two puppies 13 months ago has reminded me how vastly different the signs of growth and aging are between children (or puppies) and adults. Week by week these aussiedoodles got larger and smarter. They reached adult size by winter, just a couple months shy of their first birthdays. In this past year my timeline of events is linked to where they were in their growth stages. October of 2018? That is when I squeezed Summer into the Minnie Mouse dress, and Koda into a Superman cape. They weighed about 30 pounds each, half what they are today.
Seeing that particular picture on the very morning I turned a year older was no coincidence. This 54th birthday falls in the hollows of my recently emptied nest and has changed the lens through which I see myself age. I am tip-toeing down this untraveled unfamiliar path, a mother growing older without the breadcrumbs marking her progress. Or perhaps the markers will be different milestones: college graduations, weddings, grand-babies, or newly learned tricks by Koda, Summer or Sansa.