This is the most recent text I’ve received from my twenty-one year old son who is in Europe with friends. Every mother knows the joy that comes with seeing such a text appear on their phone when their college-age child is traveling. Those two words can provide such comfort in knowing your child has arrived at his destination safely.
Or how about “thank you” as you wait to find out if your son received his most recent care package? Those two words let you know he’s likely enjoying the treats you sent and that you can dispose of the tracking slip. “Thank you” is also the text my son sends his grandparents who mail him a bit of spending money each month while he is away at college. These two simple words let them know he appreciates their support.
One of my favorite two word combinations has to be “miss you” which can cause me to beam for nearly a day when they arrive from my son. It’s not so much that I find joy in my son missing me, but that he took time to type those particular two words when guys are so often discouraged from showing their vulnerability.
Here’s another combo I like seeing in text: “really good,” particularly as a response to my question about how his day has gone. It’s not much of a response, but it tells me he is doing well and that I have some good news to look forward to when we finally have the chance to talk.
Texts like “watch this” and “read this” are sent when my son is excited about a recent lecture he’s heard or when he has come across a poem that he just has to share. These two word texts delight me as they give me insight into what my adult child finds interesting, uplifting, or entertaining.
How about “can’t wait” as a response to my question about whether he is looking forward to coming home for a visit? I savor those two words for the entire week before he arrives. Or even two words like “looks awesome” as a response to my sharing a picture with him of something I’ve cooked that I think he would like. A “good idea” text can validate a suggestion I’ve made and allow me to hang on to a remnant of my role as motherly advisor.
If you had asked me three years ago before my son went to college if I would have enjoyed two word texts as much as I do now, I would have rolled my eyes and scoffed. I would have thought that mothers are entitled to far more than simple two-word texts. But something in me has changed.
I appreciate now that as a college student, a volunteer, a part-time employee, a friend, a musician, a fraternity member, and a son, this person I raised is busy and challenged and taking in all that life has to offer. I know that two words afford me a glimpse into those new roles he has taken on. They provide me with an insight into his adult life and those two words, well, they serve as the thread that binds us. Two words can tell me he has taken the time from his schedule to maintain our bond despite his adult status and all that he has to juggle.
What’s my all-time favorite two-word text? It has to be “love you.” I could see those two words a million times over and never tire of them appearing on my phone. Who doesn’t like those two words?
You might think from all this talk about texting that my son and I don’t often talk. You would be right. We don’t get to chat every day. I don’t get to ask him “how was your day?” as he climbs the stairs to his bedroom after school. When I do get to talk to him for more than an hour at a time, our conversations are a potpourri of updates, shared concerns about the world, musings on music, history, art and travel, and reflections on relationships, finances, health and wellness. I have learned over time the difference between these two words: quality and quantity. The quality of our conversations has improved as my son matures and experiences more of the world. The quantity may not be there, but the quality of our conversations makes up for it.
And my two words to those of you who might wince at the incredible brevity of these texts. “It’s enough.” Two words can be enough to reassure us, to enlighten us, and to keep us connected. Advice about those two word texts? Savor them. Save them. Love them.
Lesha Dalton is a logophile, mother, wife, assistant principal, seeker of new definitions, and devoted old-fashioned letter writer. While she is an avid traveler, Lesha still works in the same school district she was born and educated in as a child in San Antonio, Texas. Lesha is the proud parent of one MIT student, a community college freshman, and a high school senior. When she isn’t in school, she can be found reading, spending time with family and friends, decorating, boating, and other healthy forms of shenanigans.
My seven-year-old daughter is watching Bob Ross paint mountains on television. She is entranced with the fan brush—the way its strokes bend the light so that it slips down the mountain’s sides. An avalanche of texture appears out of the sky. Titanium White, he says, his voice sliding into our home. He tells you what is going to appear next so that his voice seems to glide down his arms and stick to the canvas like color. My daughter concentrates on the brightness he paints from the right, a little snow, he says, a happy little cloud. He strokes a valley into existence. Imagine all the things that can live there, he says.
And I do. I imagine the animals roaming in that valley. I imagine my daughter there, the sun highlighting her hair, the mountains rising into the sky around her. The moment makes me remember the scene in Mary Poppins when Bert, Mary, Jane, and Michael jump into one of Bert’s sidewalk chalk paintings. How all of a sudden the world is whatever we want it to be – art’s power to create and transform.
Anything is possibleon a wet canvas, Ross is saying. Color can be stretched, added; all of a sudden the sky is blue and clear. It just happens. He pulls paint across the screen until the space is the perfect shade of sunset – bet you didn’t realize you had so much power, he says. My daughter straightens her shoulders as he pushes the mountain down into the mist and washes the brush, let it float, he instructs, no pressure, it’s up to you. The only pressure applied to the brush is when he “beats the devil out of it” on the side of the easel, back and forth, until the brush is clean and dry enough for the next color paint. My daughter says she wants to meet him.
I Google “Bob Ross,” and see this isn’t possible – he passed away from Hodgkin Lymphoma on July 4, 1995 when he was just 52 years old. I look up and see him scrape another peak into the side, slicing the pink sky with darkness. Then, he brings the green half-way up the mountain’s slope. It gets too high, he explains, the trees can’t live where it is so cold.
Bob Ross is teaching my daughter how to paint, but his voice hints at other things: science, philosophy, life, and even death. My daughter concentrates on the tree line. She is still at the bottom of that mountain, in the warm, sunshine laden valley; I am half-way up, climbing middle-age, finding my way through the Sap Green trees. The light streams into the living room, and I take a moment to appreciate her sitting there, content, watching Bob Ross make things exist.
He mixes the black and the blue into a bruise on the palette, shadowing the left sides where the light doesn’t hit. He says, snow is so easy to paint, and I feel its chilly cold creep into my chest as he moves to finish a tree branch, scatters a few Dark Sienna colored sticks into the ground to show where life has been.
Alexandra Umlas lives in Huntington Beach, CA and is currently an MFA student in the Poetry program at California State University, Long Beach.
Steam shoots into the air as the ball of noodles hits the boiling water. My daughter’s eyes dance, following the cook as he performs his choreography, accompanied by a cacophony of hisses, sizzles, and splatters. He is an artist; a simple white bowl awaits his creation.
I stare at my own masterpiece, savoring the strokes of blue in her eyes. A stranger once said to me, “Her eyes are the sea and yours are the sky.” We are the sea and the sky, always connected, one born of the other. I think about that day, exactly three years ago. I can feel the dark ocean waves of labor, the tide coming in, closer and closer. I feel the pressure I swore would break me in two. Then the relief. Hello, Baby Girl. I’ve been waiting for you. On the hard days, I remind myself that I prayed for this child.
The waitress delivers our drinks, soda for Mommy and apple juice for Baby Girl. We clink our glasses together and laugh. “Cheers! Kanpai!” A birthday is something to celebrate. On the day she was born, fireworks went off in our tiny hospital room. All that beauty, surprising and sparkling, soaring and shooting, then bursting, and slowly falling back to Earth. After the crackle of the fireworks had faded, new sounds filled the space between the walls of our home. Cries, whimpers, and wails were our nightly soundtrack. Even when she was quiet, I heard her in the whir of the fan and hum of the shower. There were other noises, too. When she was hungry, she was a little warthog grunting until she found the breast. Giggles, coos, and raspberries were the antidote to my exhaustion. Then there were the cheers of proud parents. “You can do it!” “Roll, roll, roll!” We cheered her on as though she were stealing third base.
Our lunch is ready. We watch with eager eyes as the chef ladles piping broth over now-softened ramen, carefully placing the finishing touches of onions, bamboo, and pork on top. Oishii! Delicious. We reach for our utensils; wooden chopsticks for Mommy and kid-sized cutlery for Baby Girl. We swirl and pull noodles from our bowls, each one as long as an afternoon of endless rocking, wishing I could will my child to sleep, craving a nap. Afternoons became evenings full of bouncing and nights of constant line-dancing across the bedroom carpet. The days are long, but the years are short. I didn’t believe them, the well-meaning mothers who said these words to me with a knowing smile. They were the warriors, those who had gone before me and done battle with the days that slapped you with exhaustion before 10 a.m. They had vanquished the frustration of a child who is hungry but won’t latch. They had conquered the loneliness. Victorious, they were preparing me, painting bold lines of black and red war paint along my cheekbones, down my nose, and across my forehead. They convinced me, turning me into a fellow warrior, a believer.
Baby Girl pokes and slices her food with the precision of a surgeon. Gone are the days of the splat mat and plastic bibs. The restaurant is quiet except for the noodles we slurp, spraying salty broth onto our shirts. I fish through the murky contents of my bowl, excited when I find a noodle, a lucky koi among the weeds. We’ve been having ramen lunches since we moved to Japan, when Baby Girl was only 15 months old. At that time, separation anxiety crippled our drop-offs with baby-sitters. She discovered the power of “no.” A missed nap turned Baby Girl into a fire-breathing dragon. But that little dragon could talk and walk and play. She didn’t need me to rock her to sleep anymore. No more line-dancing for us.
Our bowls are almost empty. Drained. I’m still digesting the drama of a morning soured by tantrums, tears, and terrible-twosing. I think it had something to do with the fact that she didn’t want to wear shoes. Or maybe it was that she couldn’t find her shoes, or that she did want to wear shoes, but she wanted to tie them herself. Emotion constantly boils, spilling over in the form of flailing limbs, crocodile tears, and incoherent speech. The days are long.
My gaze settles on the bright orange vinyl that covers our seat, worn out from other patrons, strangers who also shared a meal in this spot. The absence of a diaper bag sitting next to us in the booth surprises me. No diapers for this girl. She goes on the big potty and rides a bike and dresses herself. She giggles and kisses and snuggles and tickles. Her hair is long now, her face less rounded. “Don’t grow up,” I tease her, beckoning her back to Neverland. The years are short.
A few small scallions taunt me as they float in the broth that remains. They are daring me to grab them with my chopsticks, to show the true level of my ability. I grab my bowl with two hands and lift it to my lips, silencing the scallions and their remaining comrades. And just like that, the bowl is empty, and my Baby Girl is three years old.
Melissa Kutsche currently lives in Japan with her family. She is a former educator and now stays home with her two young children, ages three and 10 months. She enjoys reading, dancing, and traveling.
She runs towards me from the field, all legs now, not the toddling knees I remember like yesterday, so fondly and profoundly tangible. It’s been years, Liz. She’s grown up a bit since then, I remind myself, trying to adjust to her real-time age, not the one that’s stuck in my head like an annoying song on repeat. Instantly I am taken back by the sheer physicality of her; I know she’s going to nearly knock me over in her awkwardly charming way. The way only a six-year old colt can.
She is so sharply and starkly herself.
I think about this and all she has to teach me about life; which is mostly about the importance of being myself. It seems so basic, yet I didn’t come into who I fully am until much later in life, when I had her. It was Anna Quindlen who said that the thing about motherhood was that children “have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.” Yes. Exactly that. It strips you to the core of who you are, who you are meant to be.
She has taught me so many things, things I didn’t even know about myself. But what am I teaching her? I sometimes wonder. I’m not sure exactly; using the napkin that is rarely in her lap but for which her sleeve is frequently a replacement? Or, making sure she brushes all of her hair not just the unknotted parts?
Perhaps the wisdom I’ll impart on her relates to which shoes are appropriate for church and which are not, knowing that usually the inappropriate ones are the ones worn. A battle I frequently lose in an effort to get to church nearly on time and not swearing or sweating in the parking lot.
I eye her in the rearview mirror sometimes. Fighting and complaining all the way about the car seat and its intended restraint to keep her safe. She’s been riding in car seats since she was born but still can’t stand it. Sometimes I chuckle, sometimes I sigh, but mostly I look at her in awe and think that perhaps I am raising a wild animal trapped in a child’s body, all raw instinct and spirit. I keep wondering if her fight will hold, will keep as I hope it does. Meanwhile, praying the prayers that mothers pray – of her never changing and being herself always – and then prayers of her maybe just softening around the edges a bit so we can make it through the next several years more peacefully. Hoping in vain I’m not dulling the sharp edge of who she is. One a prayer of optimism, the other one laced with a heavy dose of guilt.
Was it not just last week that I brought her home, looked into her blurry, blue baby eyes and wondered who she would grow up to be? I’m still looking for clues. So much I know about her already: the way she wants to entertain us at bedtime instead of sleep, her favorite color, what she will and won’t wear, and what she wants for her birthday.
I know the deep things that she whispers in my ear, that when she swims she feels like a mermaid. I know so much – like the way her freckles move across her face; how movies with high emotion exhaust her. So much still remains elusive, even after being inside of me for nearly a year. So much remains a mystery – a familiar looking enigma that I know and love so dearly but do not understand completely.
One thing is certain: she is teaching me about how powerful it is to be yourself, as-is. Not hiding or a becoming a faded version of myself, like I’ve tended to do over the years, editing my size and my presence in my own life. But as the ocean does to the rocks, she’s extracted me to my very essence; removed the unnecessary to reveal who really I am and need to be. She’s my Michelangelo in a way; eliminating all that useless marble to carve out something beautiful. Perhaps my need to do my hair, along with some of the other self-care basics that I miss from my me-me-me twenties are in that pile of rubble. Motherhood has refined any superficial need down to just bare, basic necessity.
I glance up again at her running towards me as she continues her trajectory. Any minute those colt legs will wrap my own legs in a happy, elated, toppling embrace, demanding my full presence and attention. I brace for impact –– smiling and happy while trying to remain sturdy –– a packaged set of emotions I’ve developed since I’ve had her. And for that, and all the rest that comes along, I’m grateful.
Liz Rasley lives in Texas with her family where she writes and tries in vain to keep up with the laundry. Read more of her writing on the intersection of life, motherhood and yes, sometimes laundry, at deepfragilegrace.com.