They Get Taller Than You

Sometimes the most biting truths, the ones that come as the biggest shocks, are the most obvious. You miss them because they are in you, you are breathing them.

For instance, my sister said the other day, speaking of her daughters: “I never had the conscious thought, ‘One day I will wake up and they will be taller than me.’ I knew it, but I never thought about it. Then when it happened I thought, I wish I could go back to yesterday and just be aware that that was the last time.”

I had my own “so obvious I refused to look at it” moment last week. Those kids you’re so consumed with raising to be responsible, productive, independent souls, will someday actually go do that. They will become their adult selves, they will move out and onward and become people you have to make a date to see for dinner.

Of course this is not news — we began saving for college when they were born — but I have refused to look at it. Maybe it is denial. Or maybe it is getting caught up in the demands of today, that tricks you into feeling that your life will always be exactly as it is right now.

In my first year as a mother, I spent so many red-eyed 3am’s rocking my baby in my arms that I felt that that would be my life forever. I would forever hold his entire weight in my arms and absorb the rhythms of his body in my heartbeat.

It’s all I can do now to remember that feeling.

So last week the realization that time is passing grabbed my face in its palms. It forced me to look at it. My sons are 11 and 14, which translates to “we have time, but also, not so much.” That infant is in high school.

What prompted this realization? A jokey conversation we had about how much my teen is going to love living on his own, doing what he wants, watching football all weekend uninterrupted. The next morning, I woke as though remembering bad news, recalling that conversation. Then I came downstairs with a different attitude toward making breakfast and packing lunches. It’s just a short time more. It’s just a short time more.

It was the same lesson I learned in that dark bedroom, the first year of his life: “This is finite. Be in the moment.” It settled me down, reminded me that the bad and the good of it were not forever. Life’s plans would catch up to us. Mothering babies taught me to be in the moment like nothing before or since. It’s part of why that first year felt like it lasted so long. Each day had more in it.

That’s all I want now — to elongate the days together. But staying in the moment is harder with bigger kids. The days race by. They play on their own. They want their own space. I try to stay close. I offer a back scratch. I look at them and wonder if today is the last day I am taller than them.

How to Make Mother’s Day Memorable

Although misplacing my nine-year-old son has become a commonplace experience, it is nonetheless still unsettling.

The first time, he was eighteen months old, in the yard playing one moment, and nowhere the next. I found him in the dark garage — the second time I looked — shuffling amidst the dangerous-to-a-toddler bikes, laundry detergent, old paint.

Now he’s nine, and when he is “lost” it’s usually because he is trying to be. At the park during his brother’s lengthy baseball games, he has free reign to roam. He has discovered that if he scales a fence he can explore the adjacent canyon. It’s a great place for imaginative play, running, and being in nature, but also far from watching eyes and help should he get hurt. He is supposed to ask permission, yet my most common exclamation at the park is, “Emmett!! Where are you?!”

But my most unnerving “Where’s Emmett?” episode happened May, 12, 2013. Mother’s Day.

It started with a Mother’s Day plan to go for a family bike ride, the four of us, leaving all digital devices at home at my request. Together we would ride from our home in Venice a few blocks to the bike path, up the Boardwalk to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market for a breakfast of chocolate crepes.

Chocolate bribe notwithstanding, Emmett wouldn’t budge. His happy place is home, in pajamas, playing.

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He daaaaawdled. His older brother, on the other hand, is about action, always first to be ready. He was already on his bike, itching to go. Here’s where I made my mistake.

To stall, I called out to Christopher, “Aaron and I will ride once around the block while Emmett gets ready.” Christopher, who was getting the last bike out of the shed, did not hear. But Emmett did. And as Aaron and I glided away, unbeknownst to anyone Emmett took chase. Nothing motivates him like the desire not to fall behind his brother. Thus, when Christopher came out of the shed, no one was there. He assumed we had started for the bike path, so he headed there. When Aaron and I finished our circle, no one was home. We also headed to the bike path.

Fifteen minutes later, we three found each other in Santa Monica. We looked around, asked with incredulity, “Where’s Emmett?” The only answer was a pit in my stomach.

“I’ll head toward home,” Christopher said. “We’ll search the Farmer’s Market,” I answered. We sped off, scouring our sections of the bike path, the wide beach on one side, the chaotic Boardwalk on the other.

At the Farmer’s Market, I rushed past parents watching their children dance, shouting my child’s name with a panic-infused voice I couldn’t disguise. A market official asked what was wrong, and, following protocol, she called the police.

Although my memory fails me increasingly, certain experiences do not fade, such as the first time you describe to a police officer the clothing your child wore when he left the house, his height, his hair cut, the color of his eyes. You may not think you are paying attention to how your child dressed himself any given day, but you will surprise yourself with the way memory tightens. “Black shorts, to the knees, with two white stripes on each side. Red Clippers shirt. Chris Paul, not Blake Griffin. Orange socks. White sneakers. Double knotted.”

He was not at the Farmer’s Market. “Let’s go back to the beach,” I said to Aaron, who was by my side all along. It was all I could think to do. But it was Aaron who saved the day, suggesting, “Maybe we could ask someone to borrow their phone, and call Dad. Maybe he found him.” That’s what we did.

“I’ve got him,” Christopher answered.

Emmett had never left our block. He had chased Aaron and me, missing us on the first rotation by a moment. Around and around he went, but by that time we were gone. A family walking down the street saw him in front of our house, obviously distressed, and let him use their phone. He knew our numbers, and called our cell phones. Which rang at home.

Meanwhile, dizzy with relief, my last task before heading home was to to tell the Farmer’s Market lady that all was well, that she could call off the cops. No can do, she said. They would send a squad car to our house to see for themselves.

“Are you Emmett?” the officer asked. “Are you okay?”

Emmett spared us by letting his thoughts — “Are you kidding? With these idiots to watch over me?” — go unspoken. “I’m fine,” he answered.

“Sir, we were two minutes away from putting a helicopter in the air to look for your son,” the officer told Christopher.

I wonder, was it a slow crime day? Was our story so suspect? Are we now on the Child Protective Services watch list? And I wonder, what is the point to such scares that sear our memories? What good can come from scars left by an hour of panic one Sunday morning? Just this: That in every mundane goodbye kiss, every hug shrugged off too soon, every “see you after school,” lives a prayer in miniature: Let my children be safe, and let them be strong; let them be kind and be treated with kindness. And, for the love of God, let there be no need for police helicopters today. Amen.

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Laura Diamond is the editor of the best-selling anthology Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and the author of the forthcoming novel Shelter Us.

Unexpected Gifts

I sat at the car wash, wondering how much longer it would take, wishing I’d postponed this deviation from my tightly wrought schedule. My son had begged me to get it washed, something new for him, so there I was. It could have waited until I had finished my day’s work and chores and ambitions. But those never get finished. I may as well have a clean car to go along with unmet goals.

I readied a big tip (mindful of the myriad ways Carwasheros are shorted by employers), when a “hello how are you” acquaintance sat near me. For years, we have said hello, exchanged smiles as we pass in or out of the elementary school, but our kids are different ages, she has girls and I have boys, and we have never had occasion to go beyond pleasantries.

Except today she carried a book in her hand. A hardback book, I’m saying. Not a Kindle. A short story collection in hardback. Not an Oprah’s choice. We talked.

She said how with three little girls short stories are her only hope. That naturally led me to plug Aimee Bender, local girl made extraordinary, and eventually a sheepish admission to me being a writer and mentioning I’d published a book.

“What’s it called?”

Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood.”

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“I have that. I pick it up all the time.”

“No, you don’t. You have something else that sounds like it.” How could someone not my mother or my best friend have my book on her shelf, and turn to it all the time?

She was certain. “Did they sell it at Village Books?”

“Yes, I did a reading there.” She found my book when searching for inspiration on the shelves of an independent book store, now empty and locked, after the birth of her youngest daughter. My book lives on her shelf with Mothers Who Think, and Brain, Child, two books that inspired my own.

I give thanks for the unexpected gifts a chance decision to run an errand may bring: That every “hello how are you” acquaintance has a unique story and sometimes we are privileged to meet each other in a deeper way if we’re open to it. That my writing has a life beyond my imagination, which may sustain people I have never met. And that a book (even when held in your hand) has the power to break through the mundane to make meaningful connections.

(Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood is available in paperback and, yes, even Kindle.)

Deliver Me for Kindle