Night was coming on as Asher, Eliana and I leaned our bikes against a picnic table and my two oldest children ran off to play.
The playground was for children far smaller and younger than they, but the urge to skip and jump, climb and frolic overtook them. Their smiles boundless, hair flying behind them caught up in the wind of movement, they immersed in the moment of play, oblivious to the expectations of tween-dom, the facade of growing older.
Later, as they pumped their legs on the swings, side by side, back and forth, their glee uncontrollable, I watched these two faces I’d known since the moment I made them.
You look to me the same as when you were babies, but look how big you are, how old, I said. When did this happen? When did you grow up before my eyes?
One has a bar mitzvah in a week and a half. The other this coming fall. They are starting to have crushes, a sense of awareness of their power in the world, dreams and hopes, desires and goals.
I’ve always believed my children are their own people, not extensions of me. I’ve known they were unique thinkers with their own perspectives since they were very young.
Asher, at one and a half, would sit for 20, 30, 40 minutes as I read Curious George, the whole collection, cover to cover, and inevitably I drifted off to sleep, my head nodding onto my chest, while he sat eagerly listening for the next words.
Eliana, at three, said, “Look, I wrote my name!” I expected to glimpse a page of paper with scribbles on it, but no, there was an E, followed by all the other letters, crudely scripted but readable because she and her apt mind were ready to fly.
Asher, at seven, asked if we could reserve one day a week for not driving, to help the environment.
Eliana, at four, asked me to remove her training wheels, determined to ride a two-wheeler, and off she went. No looking back, no request for help.
Now, they are both almost as tall as I am. I can see the future, with them walking into it, tall and lanky, eager and aware, ready to change the world. I know it won’t be long before they build lives of their own, and I wonder at how quickly parenting begins and then proceeds to that stage of empty nest.
I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps it’s time to bring a dog into our house. For the kids, to learn the art of loving an animal, caring for it, playing with it, a different kind of family member, a different connection and responsibility.
For me, to learn the art of loving a creature that always loves you back in wordless and powerful ways. I’ve never known that.
My first experience of unconditional love was truly the moment I became a mother. These four perfect creatures, with all their imperfections, have my heart without question, without debate, without condition.
While their every action does not always please me, their pure souls and peaceful hearts always will, and I know I would climb mountains and walk out on cliffs to save them or just to be there when they needed someone to listen.
But they will leave as children do and I will miss them as parents do and that is the wonder if this thing called parenthood.
It comes with such excitement and expectation and then you are full-on into it, sometimes immersed beyond question and beyond a clue of what, exactly, is happening.
And then, in a flash of light, it is over in a way. While you always remain a parent, these incredible people up and leave as they are trained to do, and you must go on with that wordless connection like a lifeline between cities and states, countries and residences.
Would a dog make me less lonely when they are gone? Perhaps.
It’s incredible that once I became a mother, a piece of me forever lives inside these other individuals, and where they go, in a way, I will go, too.