On Feeling Wistful

My husband on a work call in the tub with our “litter” of children, circa 1998


My house, these days, expands and contracts like an accordion. Right now, at the tail end of Thanksgiving vacation, it’s filled to the gills. I came downstairs this morning to a stash of shoes in our front hall, one pair of Vans the size of small dinghies. (A clue that somewhere in my house, an enormous Millennial lay sleeping.) Tomorrow, we will shrink back down to our Empty Nest—plus our newest member, a rescue dog that two of my daughters and my husband acquired last weekend while I was out of town teaching. (Luckily for everyone involved, when I got home I fell instantly in love with Cosmo.)

There has been a lot of chaos this vacation. Our four young adult children all home with various forms of +1’s. Two puppies underfoot: our grand-puppy (“child” of our newlywed daughter and son-in-law) plus ten-week-old Cosmo. An assortment of grown children we knew since they were pre-schoolers dropping in wearing their giant Vans. I have loved every second of it. (Actually, that’s not true: I had a puppy-poop stress attack, and a meltdown over the unresolved red tape issues that remain from having been hacked a few weeks ago. But still, all things considered, I weathered chaos with—perhaps relatively speaking—graceful aplomb.) I wish I’d known all along what I definitely know now: which is that the chaos is temporary. By dawn tomorrow, the disassembled bike in the basement will have been boxed up and en route to San Francisco with one of my daughters. By midday, the laundry room will be devoid of my son’s ripped hamper brought home from college, as well as all of its now clean contents.  By nightfall, we will be down to one puppy and two fifty-something adults. I will be able to wipe down the kitchen counter in a manner that remains wiped down for hours if not days.

People used to tell me when my kids were little—and a veritable litter, four kids born in a span of less than six years—that their childhoods would pass in the blink of an eye. That I should not worry about tidiness but should instead get down on the floor and play with my precious children whose youth was fleeting. Should listen with rapt attention to their every word, uttered in their never-again-to-exist inimitable chirps. But I couldn’t help it, I had to clean. I had to organize and fold and sweep and try to create order out of chaos because I found that soothing. Also, I snuck The New Yorker behind Barbie cars and lego towers because I craved mature language and the escape of engaging my pre-frontal cortex. I love, like, and am fascinated by the young adults my children have become—but as cliché as this sounds, I would give almost anything to go back in time for a visit. For the chance to listen their rich and quirky toddler syntax, to hang on every butchered word as I snuggle with their warm little bodies. (Would I even go so far as to forego The New Yorker?  Would dolls and lego be able to sustain my attention due to the magical evanescence of time travel?)

Wistful. I am wistful.

I feel life flying by, the seeming acceleration of its pace. Years accumulate so quickly that I have to do the math to figure out whether I am fifty-two or fifty-three (answer: fifty-three). While there is of course no solution, no way to change the inevitable passage of time, there does seem to be a palliative remedy. Savoring. Savor the memories. Savor the present. Savor.

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