Peek a boo.
It’s been a reflective kind of a month. Days when from some obscure corner of my memory bank I’m startled by a vision of being a mom 5 years ago…or 10 years ago…or longer ago than I want to admit.
I’ve been thinking about those baby games.
Remember those people who woke up ready to play? Those chubby-thighed, drool-soaked, giggling little people. Those little images of ourselves who jabbered excitedly when we made contorted faces? Belly-laughed at us as we crawled after them in all our adult-jiggling glory? Looked at us expectantly, just waiting for us to rebuild the tower of blocks they’d knocked over for the hundredth time, dimpled elbows and chunky fingers waving in joy?
It seems impossible that time flew so quickly.
I’m sitting across the room from the last bald replica of me. Only now she’s in adult mode. Or at least she’s pretending to be. And she’s certainly not bald.
There’s a phone in her hand. And she’s facing the other way. One ear bud in.
Peek-a-boo! How was your day? (One syllable answer from the once-verbose toddler.)
Chasing down more information! Anything happen at school today? (Really? No.).
Peek-a-boo! Are you ready for Saturday’s competition? (Should be.)
Chasing down more information! Do you need anything before the game? (Don’t think so.).
And so it goes. I may as well have had a receiving blanket over my head.
I’m resigned to being a middle-aged mom playing peek-a-boo with a teenager – I’ll just wave through the fence or across the cafeteria; I’ll make eye contact over your sunglasses; I’ll hope for body contact as our hands connect over gas money.
I’m fascinated that we used a game to teach those toothless babes that nothing could separate them from us. That we’d always be there. That we’d always reappear from under the blanket or behind the couch or above the newspaper, no matter how skeptical they were, or how many times we had to repeat the process to convince them.
Maybe we taught it well. But some days, I don’t think I’ve learned it.
I miss the days when eye contact, or an energetic burst through the back door meant that someone was seeking out that mom who had hidden under the table. On the days when these new adults leave before breakfast and don’t say goodbye or think they’re sneaking in after midnight but don’t say goodnight, a little bit of me chokes under the weight of the blankie from 15 years ago.
I’m sure I’m not as magical as I once was. I miss the era of fixing things that could be fixed: crashing block towers (rebuild), poorly hair-trimmed dolls (replace), Play Dough on the couch (scrub, scrub, scrub). These latest years have tested my skills. I can still stack blocks and snap a race track together, but I don’t have the miracle approach for fixing a broken heart. I can’t guide your hands to do what it takes to make things right with a friend. I can’t teach you a song to make you believe you are worth the job interview. I can’t erase things you’ve seen and heard. (Kind of like the permanent marker on the wallpaper.)
Sometimes the blocks just never fit back together the same way again.
Especially when you’re working with an aging parental engineer.
I get that the jiggling adult body isn’t as funny as it was when I crawled after you across the black-and-white-checkered linoleum. You inherited those chubby knees from somewhere, and 50-year old dimpled knees don’t have the same speed or tolerance for hardwood-floor maneuvers.
I get that growing up has always been about learning how to move away.
As clearly as if it were yesterday, I remember little hands slapping the floor as you rushed to get away from me. Then, suddenly, you would stop, throw a sly little glance over that rounded shoulder, and stare at me to see if I was coming. A slight fake move on my part would have you giggling and pattering away, only to repeat the over-the-shoulder look until I caught you.
Then we’d laugh and laugh. And do it again.
And maybe we it taught well. But some days, I don’t think I learned it.
The rules of the game are changing. The time stretches longer between every one of your cautious looks back to see where things are. How things stand. You still look back. But you’re moving faster.
Because over time, I realize that you aren’t looking back to see if I’ll follow.
You’re looking back to see if you can still see me.
You can’t lose me that easily.