I Know We’ve Come a Long Way

Indigo came home from school sick yesterday. Technically, it was his dad’s day, but I live closer to the school and he wasn’t feeling well enough to bus across the southeast to Jim’s house. So, as luck would have it, he was here. Also as luck would have it, Portland experienced its greatest wind storm in 33 years yesterday.

Around 3PM, while at work, I got a call from Indigo. I was in the middle of three critical deadlines, and about to meet with the COO, but I answered my phone anyway. This is my rule: there’s nothing at work more important than a call from my children. I even answered a phone call from them during my interview for the job. “Sorry,” I said when I sat down. “My kids are going to get home from school midway through this interview, and they’re going to call me nonstop until they get me on the phone to let me know they’re home. I’ll answer really quickly, acknowledge them, then get right off. I hope that’s okay.”

So, Indigo calls me yesterday when I was in the middle of all the things, and he says, “Mom! The neighbor’s tree just fell onto our house! It shook the whole foundation and everything!”

“What?” I asked. “Holy shit – Indigo, are you okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” he said. “Can I have some chips?”

“Wait. Hold on. Is the tree actually in our house? Are you okay? Do I need to call 9-1-1?”

“No, mom. Everything is fine. You don’t have to worry, I was just telling you. Can I have some chips, please?”

“Indigo,” I repeated slowly. “Tell me: is the tree inside the house? Is anything broken? Are you okay?”

“No, mom,” he said calmly, “The tree is not in the house. Nothing is broken. Yes, I’m okay.”

“I’m coming home. Let me just finish this one task up really quickly and I’ll be right there.”

“You don’t have to come home,” Indigo assured me. “I was just telling you.”

“Okay, well thanks for that, but I’m coming home. I’ll be there soon.”

“Okay,” Indigo said. Then he added, slowly and quietly, “Hey, mom?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I please have some chips and salsa?”

“Yes, buddy,” I told him. “Knock yourself out.”

When I got home, I found that things were not, in fact, “fine.” While the house was certainly standing, the tree – an enormous, ancient evergreen that had been at risk of collapsing for many windstorms – had fallen across the back part of my house – namely, the utility room and my bedroom – and onto the neighbor next door’s house, too. The ceiling over my bedroom was buckled, but not caved in. I had to move furniture, cover my belongings in a tarp, and call the landlord. Meanwhile, the wind howled outside and Indigo and Tolkien (who’d come to my house after school) remained in the living room eating chips and salsa and watching Netflix.

The wind picked up and, fearfully, I ran out to check the monstrous tree, only half of which had fallen. The half that still stood, the top sixty feet off the ground, rapidly bent and swayed like a ship about to capsize. First toward my house, then toward the other side, then back toward mine. Indigo ran out to look. He turned toward the street, toward a car zooming home to safety, and saw the way the wind was tossing it all over the road. He looked back at Tolkien and me and started shouting orders. “We have to go. We have to get in the car and go! This storm is too much! That tree is going to blow over! It’s going to kill us. We’re not safe! Tolkien – get your shoes on! We have to get in the car.”

Oh, my son. So much like his mom. So full of anxieties and fears and the need to protect. I realized my anxiety was causing real terror in him, and I collected myself. “Indigo, it’s okay,” I said. “Look at the tree. the wind is blowing in one direction. If it knocks the rest of the tree over, which I’m pretty sure it won’t, it’ll fall on the back part of the house. We’re okay. We’ll just stay in the front part. Okay? Let’s go inside.”

We went back in and I said, “Hey, will you guys come help me empty out my room real quick? I need to be fast because I want to get everything done before this storm gets worse.”

“No way,” they both said. “I’m not going back there. Nuh uh.”

“Um, okay,” I replied. “Thanks, anyway.”

Indigo had already settled himself back on the couch. He looked up at me before hitting play on Netflix. “Be quick, okay? And can I have some more chips?”

Soon, Jim came to get the boys and I was left here alone. I battened down the hatches, so to speak, then fell, exhausted, into the boys’ bed and went to sleep.

Today, a group of hard-hatted men came and removed the evergreen from off my house – a task that required 8 hours of work and a crane. Midday, a neighbor told me that just after the tree fell the day before, Indigo was out in the street “doing an interpretive dance” and freaking out when he was told to “go inside and call his mom.” I nearly cried with laughter. I could actually envision it – this man-sized, feverish boy hopping around, trying to figure out what to do. I texted Jim and told him that the issue was being resolved and that I probably wouldn’t have to temporarily relocate with the boys. Then I told him the interpretive dance story.

He replied, “Yeah. I think he grew up a little yesterday.”

That made me smile.

But it also kind of broke my heart.

It occurred to me tonight why this idea is so wistful – the complicated emotions of my boy becoming a man – when, during a fall down an internet rabbit hole, I watched a video for Cat Stevens’s “Where Do the Children Play.” 

The song itself, as with most of Steven’s songs, is melancholic. But the video in particular – a series of still photos showing children playing and displaying what appears to be unfettered joy – made me realize something that had never occurred to me before, something about innocence and, especially, the loss of it. I think the reason innocence is so cherished and fetishized isn’t because it’s so inherently wonderful, but because the loss of it is so inherently devastating. It isn’t that we don’t want our children to grow up, it’s that we don’t want them to go through the process necessary to grow up. Or that we fear it. Or that every step toward adulthood is a step away from unfettered joy. Every time a tree falls on your house when you’re home alone and you have to make big choices about that, you get another fetter – another psychic manacle that anchors you to this earth.

I don’t know. This thought, perhaps, isn’t totally formed. I’m just a lady with a little blog that you can’t even find via a Google search; it’s not like I’m writing for Salon and I’m working with a thesis statement. All I know is this: yesterday, my son came home an almost-thirteen-year-old-boy. And when he went home for the night, some piece of his childself was left dancing in the street in a battering windstorm working up an appetite for chips and salsa.

It’s probably not as big of a deal as I feel like it is right now. I’ll go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and this feeling will be gone. I’m proud of the men my sons are becoming. But the little guys – light and free and swinging on swing sets in the sunshine – they’re leaving me every day. And I guess that’s all just very intense. That’s all.

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