Traces of You

This place, pregnant with your presence
With all the clues you leave behind
I want to remember, before they slip my mind
And one day return to a room to find
It exactly the way I left it.


Watch out.

Be careful.

You’ll break it.

Don’t make such a mess.

Sometimes I catch myself communicating a string of orders, corrections, and concerned warnings to my children. I feel annoyed by their intense presence, the loud noises, the constant requests, the fear of chores to come when they are busy about the house. As they move to another area, fuming with irritation I clean up. The quiet moment is delicious. My annoyance subsides. Suddenly I stop myself from dismantling an unintended installation and for the first time see what they were doing. A haphazard stack of random objects precariously balance as a momentary sculpture. A dinosaur perched on the kitchen table chomps on dry crackers. The leftover meatballs that fit so perfectly through a round hole in a box roll around as I pick it up. I am suddenly aware of their tangible existence in our home, the way they shape our space, and the logic and absurdity behind their explorations. The discoveries evolve as they develop, starting with fitting items together the installations become more complex as the children grow. Patterns begin to emerge in their piles. An intricate tension holds objects carefully balanced against each other together. Their understanding of their environment begins to take shape.

These accidental exhibits have become meditative monuments for me. They confront me, ask me why the rearrangement bothers me so, and challenge my need for order. Taking the time to examine and record them, I have encountered an organic flexibility in allowing an inclusive space to manifest in contrast to my rigid insistence on what I find aesthetic. It allows my reactions to come and go without my hanging on, to appreciate the learning the experimentation provided the explorers, and to enjoy the transient beauty of these spontaneous arrangements. The impermanence of these still lives leave me melancholy, mourning the clearing up I witness the wiping away of evidence of their growth. The constant change of child development keeps me on my toes, constantly alert for new challenges. Then the milestone is reached, a level of maturity is attained, and the phase has passed as the next one pulls me forward. It all goes by so fast like cars passing you on the highway. As the saying goes, “The days are long but the years are short.” Reflecting on this spearheaded growth a sense of loss is palpable. At times I want to hold on, slow it down, stop and savor, simultaneously aware of my longing for them to become more independent freeing me from a feeling of bondage. Motherhood moments are emotional contradictions, forcing me to hold space for opposing sentiments.

Get off my lap!

I want to hold you forever!

Hurry up and grow up!

No, no, stop growing, baby!

The children harbor no such attachments to their creations, gleefully knocking over elaborate castle towers they so painstakingly put together. Like monks blowing the sand of a mandala away, their pleasure is in the process, not in the anchoring and possessing of their work. All they want to do is try, practice, and become more capable, eager to break free of dependency. The results are of no interest to them, easily abandoned for the next whim. Why do I celebrate yet mourn the passing of milestones? What is this sentimental longing that surfaces when I see old baby pictures of them? Who is this nurturer that stirs at the intoxicating whiff of a newborn’s head? Some primal hormonal residue that permeates the mother soul? How can I be a feminist if I am cradling their first onesie from a dusty box in the attic? Hold me tight and let me go, they say, as I fear yet yearn for the day I let go for the last time.

Perhaps my experience is peculiar. I often hear parents holding on tightly to their need for order and control, desperately pushing their children down the path towards acceptable civility and self-reliance.

Show them who’s boss.

They need rules and boundaries.

You have to teach them,

shape them,

mold them…

Would I miss out on their creations if I controlled their play? Would they miss out? Would they learn how to be clean and use items as they were intended to but fail to grasp balance, spatial cohesiveness, or the versatility of material? Perhaps it makes no difference either way. I ponder the commands, the constant guidance I give, the stamping of my values as I shape them in my image. If I interfere with their self-discovery will their inner voice be made up of my demands echoing into their adulthood long after I am gone? Would they find it useful? Or would they feel contained in a box that lets in no light? Would my words drown out their own voices? Would they have to peel back the layers of my wants for them, like rubble after a long war, to uncover a wisdom all their own? If I fail to provide a path, will they feel lost, endlessly searching for structure as they float through an amorphous world that was never explained to them?

Their uninhibited movement in their fluid bodies through time and space is a dance of freedom. How I long to weave through my environment full of wonder and unquenchable curiosity, eager to interact, learn, and engage without hesitation or holding back, not a slave to decorum in fear of judgement and rejection. They inhabit their flesh with self-assurance and full of trust, possessing some kind of primal default condition rarely seen adults. Their energy bursts from their cells as they bound and glide over the earth. How jealous I am of you children. The manifestations of their interactions with the material world are an ode to free-form learning and a direct tap into the innate universal intelligence that flows through everything but finds a particularly efficient conductor in children. When I interfere with this connection they naturally have, I can’t help but wonder if I just witnessed a short, a breaking of contact with those ethereal circuits. They shrink away from the flow and focus on my energy, their movements become doubtful and restrained as they eye me for permission or disapproval. Where do they hide when they don this cautiousness? Do they still have contact with themselves somewhere in the back of their minds? Maybe at first but over time does that part of them get buried under parental approval, precious teacher time and attention, peer inclusion and acceptance, and all those other layers of social constructs?

I will only know the answers to these questions if I am blessed to see them develop into grown men and they have the insight and openness to share any impressions with me. But here we are

today dodging toys, hopping over lose pieces scattered across the living room floor, the din of perpetual activity drowning out my thoughts, as I scramble to get dinner on the table and some clean clothes in the closet. One day soon

I will return to a room

and find it exactly as I left it.