Earl, the kids and I traveled 2 hours south of Palo Alto this weekend to attend a friend’s wedding in Carmel Valley. The ceremony took place in a sun drenched clearing ringed by a circle of wizened oaks dripping with garlands of Spanish moss. A million moths fluttered silently through the air, lighting on the trees, the ground, our hair. Already, rows of rustic benches were mostly filled, and clusters of congregants instead found shelter standing in the dappled shade beneath the oaks. We selected seats at the back, surrounded by other families, small children resting on their parents’ laps.
Our distance from the officiant and happy couple created an auditory buffer through which only snippets of the ceremony could be heard. As I strained to keep up with quoted passages, my attention was diverted by a succession of increasing wiggles and protests. The afternoon’s sun beat down relentlessly on us all, including a young mother and her 5 month old infant in the row in front of us. The wriggling ceased as the baby found comfort in the way she knew best. Cradled in the crook of her mother’s right arm, she suckled earnestly and contentedly. I was arrested by this familiar sight in ways I haven’t revisited in years.
What seemed like just yesterday, before teething rings and dimpled thighs gave way to braces and long legs, I cradled each of my own nursing babies in my arms. I marveled at the beauty of his/her smooth skin and soft hair, and with closed eyes breathed in deeply the savory sweetness of his milky breath. Often when I glanced down at a round face pressed to my breast, before the urgent swallows quieted to the lazy breathing of slumber, I was riveted by my child’s steady unblinking gaze back up at me. I provided comfort and sustenance, and he reciprocated with dependent, unguarded love. At that moment in time, I knew that child was wholly my world and I his.
I fought for composure as this poignant remembrance stuck in my throat. Relationships with my children have since changed in myriad ways. Our interactions have morphed from the initial system of simple demand and supply to the complex dance now required to preserve sensitive feelings yet encourage homework and music practice. Reaching to smooth our daughter’s curly hair, whisper lovingly into our younger son’s ear, and wrap my arm around our older son’s slim waist, I calmed with the knowledge that they are all now independent enough to satisfy (most of) their own needs and (more frequently than not) find happiness within.
Now that my children are older, that I am unable provide the very basic sustenance they once craved and required no longer matters. The mutinous mammary gland which has thrown my year into emotional, physical, and logistical disarray has been summarily removed and replaced. Its successor is unidimensional, providing bulk but no function. It can be seen but not felt.
A lisping endless loop sung by another young child broke through my brief reverie. Just minutes before, the wedding party’s barefoot and flaxen pigtailed junior flower girl was dutifully strewing her basket’s rose petals several steps behind the senior flower girl. Midway down the aisle, though, she visibly slowed and reversed course altogether, either forgetting her mission or simply losing interest. Now, she was blissfully balancing her rotund stomach on the bench in front of me, in the space recently vacated by the young mother and her sleeping baby. “Ol’ MacDonal’ had a faw. EeYiEeYiYo.” I smiled. What’s done is done. She had obviously moved past her failings, and so should I.
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