Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste… years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just… take it.
Lois McMaster Bujold
My birthday is this Saturday.
I am going to be 54.
This is same age my father was when he died of lung and bone cancer and a life of alcohol abuse.
I am in Wisconsin.
Where, you ask? Didn’t I just get home from Italy?
But while I was in Italy, my youngest sister was in the Democratic Republic of Congo getting/fetching/extracting/receiving her new daughter through the adoption process.
So, at the tender age of 54 I am becoming an Aunt to a little brown skinned angel named Ella Rose. I came here so she could capture my heart.
She has been successful.
And I only just got here yesterday afternoon.
Maybe my heart was easy for the taking. My youngest sister has long looked to me, her eldest sister, for good reasons to do things. I won’t say she looks to me for advice because I think the tags attached to advice are often negative and very pricey, so I don’t offer it. I am here to offer my experience as a mother and to fuss over the both of them, because I am the matriarch of my extended family and this is what a matriarch does. In this case, we cook dinner, do the laundry, crawl around on the floor, and make it easy for this new mom to adjust to being needed and craved by a daughter who has lived through enormous hardship in her 15 months.
Seeing the way Ella Rose’s little hands reach around my sister’s leg to balance herself as she pulls up, her tiny span looks exactly like the tendrils my bean plants put out to anchor and push off in to the air another few inches. My sister has placed herself at the roots of this little girl’s life in order to give her a strong foundation from which to grow. My niece has arrived on the golden plain of Wisconsin from the trash layered streets of an impoverished country in the capable arms of my sister. Our whole family and our friends are weaving together a network of love and care for these two that will sustain them in to the future.
I feel very adult today. My own children are chugging along in high school, their own tendrils are strong and supple and spread to higher and higher places, wrapped snuggly around me and my husband and spread further to other people in our lives who stand at their foundation. When I first heard Hillary Clinton say “It takes a village” my kids were really young and I understood it, but didn’t know it as my life.
Today, as I see my children move around the world with other people as their mentors, teachers, confidantes and buddies, I know the village. I don’t know everyone who lives here yet, but I know that the village is more important to my children than almost anything I can ever say. The words, love and companionship that are offered them by the other people in my children’s lives fall in to their hearts through separate passageways; different from the passageways my husband and I have access to as their parents.
And for this reason, I do not take these relationships lightly. I take the request a child makes seriously and I offer myself to the other children in my life with a sense of reverence and honor. My kids are teenagers, so we do assist them in forging these relationships, helping them set up arrangements with tutors or teachers, but it is their own appetites and who they are attracted to that dictates how firmly or deeply those relationships will settle in to the our village.
Just this summer, my boy Ben spent 2 days with one of my best friends from college. This is a guy who has known Ben since he was born and has, for Ben’s 18 years, been waiting not-so-patiently to have my son, without me. They had a whole evening to talk philosophy and eat, then another day to hang around. The grins on their faces when I saw them again told me that the scatological humor had run havoc and the food had been just what I would never offer. A perfect time for an 18 year old.
When Ella Rose took my finger early this morning, I felt the first tendrils of her being reach out and wrap around mine. When I returned from a walk later and she ran in to me, not necessarily wrapping her arms around me yet, but bubbling and touching and seeing me up close as I knelt before her, I could sense her feelers judging- is this a firm presence, can I include this big person in my village?
I accept this award of adulthood today knowing that the tags attached to this honor mean standing in my integrity in every relationship I forge- with each person I encounter, whether I am related by blood, proximity or choice. When Ella reaches out her small set of fingers towards me, I stand before her ready to be strong and tall and a stand from which she can reach and stretch.
It is a delight beyond knowing that I get to spend my birthday here. We are going to meet Geri Miller at the Madison Farmer’s Market, apparently, THE Farmer’s Market. I will keep you posted on all that goes on here. And let you know how the tendrils forming.
Please stay tuned for news on the workshop I am leading this fall at Simon’s Rock College called THE POWDER KEG SERIES: a writing workshop for mothers and others. Here is a link to the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers page, our host venue. Many thanks to the Festival for their continued
support of Laundry Line Divine and Out of the Mouths of Babes.
And thank you for your support of my work here. Please pass this blog post on to a friend. And consider subscribing to my site. And, as always, your comments are always welcome.
With love from a newly hatched Aunt,