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Childhood doesn’t unfold along a linear path

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Friday, Jan. 26, 2018 9:59 PM

Monday night, Dan and his buddies are gathered in the solarium for their biweekly “bow-night,” in which a group of guys, wielding metal rasps and sandpaper, craft primitive bows out of tree trunks. It’s like Hunger Games meets a beer commercial.

When I suggest to Col and Rose that we play a game, they select Sorry, a choice that gives me panicked flashbacks to the tedium of early years where five minutes passed like a geological era. But I give a resounding “yes!” because it’s the clearest way to say, “I want to be with you,” (even while my brain is liquifying). Col, 13, decides to create a stack of his own Sorry cards, spending half an hour scribbling directives on paper rectangles.

Col folds his custom Sorry cards into the deck and on a turn pulls an original. “Say five curse words and move forward 10 spaces,” he reads, blushing. He and Rose, 10, search my face, wondering if I’ll shut this down. Instead, I hold him to it. He can only come up with four, one of which is “crap.”

I can remember thinking, at least 25 times in the past eight years, that we had landed in the exact sweet spot of parenting, inhabiting some cosmic, singular intersection of independence and loveliness, the ingredients for such balance never to be present again. Maybe we had just thrown off the shackles of diapers, but everyone was still beside themselves with enthusiasm for farm animals. Or, perhaps the kids could endure long road trips but would still make an imaginative world of play on the shores of the Animas.

My belief that as the kids soared closer to independence, they’d necessarily jettison their own childlike wonder like so much extra baggage kept me frantically attached to what was surely the last outpost on the unswerving path to some drab, inevitable adulthood.

But childhood is not actually a linear path projected by Motherhood Inc. in which plot points create a predictable trajectory of growth. The kids soar and stumble, bouncing around every spot on the grid. Recently, I overheard Col explaining to a buddy that he felt hurt when other friends teased him about watching Barbie episodes with his sister. And I thought, “Beautiful expression of feelings!” The next day, Col mocked his sister mercilessly. Par for the sibling course, but still, was this real life imitating a Sorry game? Ten steps forward, five back.

The other night, the kids spent the evening hissing at each other like territorial snakes and then climbed wordlessly into the stacked mattresses of their bunk bed as if any hour past 8 p.m. was automatic truce for cobras. I can hardly keep track of anyone’s personal trajectory anymore.

The Sorry game goes on tediously (as history predicts), and the kids are completely, bafflingly engaged. I’m reminded that these children contain all their former selves, a living mix of who they’ve ever been. It’s like simmering a soup, different flavors asserting themselves at different stages.

Within this gumbo is the toddler “do it ownself” battle cry, transformed to the tween corollary: “You can’t stop me from wearing shorts in January.” Also within: four certified curse words and solo bike rides to friends’ houses. But wait – a game of Sorry surfaces like the pre-adolescent version of executives taking a load off on the golf course. Still in there! And because all we have is the sweet spot of now, I’m determined to be delighted still, which is a matter of my own perspective.

When I stir in the most recent layer to the soup – maybe that tweenish thing that gives me pause – the aroma of their collective days hits me and fills me with a knowing that there are no fixed points, no finish line, just a continuum of grace to be here growing together.

Reach Rachel Turiel at sanjuandrive@frontier.net. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.

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