I write love letters to my sons. I save them after they’ve read them, in the back of their sock drawers. They resurface when it’s time to do laundry and get buried again when we put the clothes away.
I file away artwork. The large pieces are in a suitcase in the basement, up off the floor in case the ten-year old hot water heater decides to blow, or the plumbing explodes while we’re out of town. I’ve heard about that happening. It only happens when you’re not home.
Their best work is framed in the hallway outside their bedrooms, like an art gallery. I gave them their framed artwork for Christmas one year. They opened them silently — silence that wasn’t disappointment. Silent pleasure, to see their work honored, what pieces I chose, how official the work looked in the frame. I had nails already in the wall waiting. We hung them together on the “I love me wall.”
When I organize papers from our daily life, I sort carefully. Hand them their work and tell them to put it over on the bookshelf counter so I can file it with their important papers. I tell them I save their writing and drawing for when they’re older because I want them to know their work is important.
Sometimes we pull out the folders for each year, look through them together and talk about them, compare the work across the years. It’s way better than a bedtime book from the library. It’s their life chart, leading up to where they are now. I pull these out on days when they’re not sure who they are.
I didn’t have these things tucked away for me when I was a kid. I am trying to keep a balance somewhere between only keeping things we use, as my mother had, out of necessity from frequent moves in the Air Force, and turning into a pack rat, buried in envelopes of every haircut, every restaurant placemat doodle.
On mornings that the boys emerge from their bedrooms in pants that stop above the ankles, we walk over to the wall in the hallway with a thick-leaded pencil and mark their new height with a line and a date. We linger, and study the progression of height marks. Notice the growth spurts and the slow growth.
My favorite moments with my kids are in the car on the way to school, or after school. Sometimes, we park in the driveway and talk for a half-hour or more before going into the house. In the evening, bedtime might be off schedule if we are spontaneously gathered in the kitchen getting rowdy.
I love laughing in the kitchen, laughing in the heart of the home. The boys deliver one-liners, try on different characters and accents and expressions. Everyone gets a turn. Everyone gets a high-five somewhere in the mix. Wit is expected. Inappropriate humor is welcomed. Dorky dance moves are encouraged. It’s medicinal, and unfolds naturally. You can tell for whom the soul salve was most needed by how hard they laugh.
We reluctantly move onto the next step of getting to bed, but we have to, so we keep volleying one-liners, giggling through the walls in our separate corners of the house, trying to keep the kitchen laughter alive.
Why we can never sell this house is because we’re all afraid of losing track of the breadcrumb trail that brings us back to who we are. The art gallery, the growth lines, the giggling through the walls, our spots around the kitchen where we tell stories and act silly. The folders on the bookshelves, the portfolios in the basement. Those are our markers. Moving would alter what we’re building, that which makes us feel strong.
I am not sure I am preparing my boys the way other parents are preparing theirs for the outside world. I’m not hoping for them to blend. I’m hoping they’ll be who they are, whomever that is from one growth line to the next. Not who the outside world thinks they should be. I’ve seen a lot of friends have to start their lives over from scratch in their forties to try to get back to who they are. They’ve lost sight of all the markers.
The other day, I pulled a book off the bookshelf for my son to read. A yellowed hard bound book of poetry, it is the only book I have from my childhood. I remember the day my mother gave it to me. The copyright is 1968. When I open the book to find a poem to share with Vincent that I used to like, I created more cracks in the glue, out of which fell an unopened love letter from my mom.