Past tense can be so liberating and so cruel.
My older two children came ready made and, in addition to spending half of their lives with their mother and stepfather, they had spent the first couple years of their lives in a world in which I was not even part of the orbit. This has always led me to view them as mysterious creatures of the undercover, James Bond sort. They lead double lives and I can only know half, at best.
When I gave birth to my biological son, I devoured him with my eyes, with observation. I could not get enough of looking at him. His ears, his eyelashes, his toes, the wrinkles on his thighs. I wanted to know everything about him. As he grew older I learned his potty habits, his eating habits, his comfort habits, his anxious habits–I felt I knew him better than anyone ever could.
And then he, too, became mysterious. He is now a teenager and he sits in the basement and conducts virtual conversations and lives a virtual life that allows him to talk with friends who never have to walk through my door. When he chances to walk through the kitchen without a shirt, I’m amazed to see dark hair on pearlescent skin. When did this happen? What do I really know anymore about this creature, this organism that I brought into the world?
Biology, it turns out, is no proof against our children turning into mysteries.
I start pondering, then, if my mother feels the same about me and my mind snags on all of the times I have thought I wanted to tell my mother something, but then forgot by the time I saw her. Or the times I considered telling her and thought better of it, not to hide facts, but to spare her. No one knows me now the way I knew my son as a baby and toddler and that is at it should be, or at least as it is. No one will know me that way again until I am no longer independent, when I babble every thought that comes into my head, as I am sure I will, and require the help of others to handle my basic physical needs.
I should have divined how difficult this stage of life really is, after all, we used to tease my mother for bursting into tears in a restaurant after telling the hostess that we “used to be five” after dropping my brother off at college. We were six, then five, now four, and it is no easier. The path, well worn, becomes a trench, a spot at which to worry at low tides.
In this case, life from the step is simply life. I do not know my children equally.