I was having dinner the other night with a friend who I’ve known since before we had kids. We’d chosen to sit inside the restaurant because it was too hot outside—the hottest July on record. A crescent moon hung large and low in the pink sky.
She was having trouble downloading to her phone a photo of her son, who I’d first met as a toddler but who had just graduated from high school. He still claimed residence in her house, she said, but his travels and adventures had kept him away all summer. She’d managed to get a photo of him one of the few days he was home.
The photo finally loaded, and I remarked that he had indeed grown up: well over six feet tall, facial hair, all the typical evidence. But I told her that I really didn’t need any more reminders that our time living with our children was winding down. Her son graduating and our daughters entering high school in a month were just the latest proof. In all the work and luck of raising children, this was the outcome we’d hoped for.
When my kids were newborns, I thought of those first few months as perfect and precious because it would be the only time that my little family would be completely ensconced away from the world. Now I see that those first eighteen years of parenting are another version of that idyllic nesting, a time when ritual and habits can keep the illusion of shelter, safety, and control intact for a while longer.
These days, I feel desperate to keep my family together in its little spaceship, to keep us small and self-contained enough to be overlooked by the powerful forces that swirl beyond. To this end, I’ve crammed us into hotel rooms, stranded us in isolated cabins, concocted long drives that require us to spend hours together in our minivan.
“Suffering makes the best memories,” I say, when they complain that a hike is too long, that a museum is too boring. I’m only half joking.
What I’m doing daily is etching these experiences into my memory and gilding them. I know that I’ll need them later, because outside the spaceship of my home and family, today and tomorrow seem to be all about heat and rage and fear, change and adaptation, mourning and solace, impossible problems and intermittent hope.
But today is also about this: My daughter is two inches taller than me; when she puts her arm around me, it rests comfortably on my shoulders. The top of my son’s head is just below my chin when we embrace. My body, too, is different: my skin needs more moisturizer, my feet require comfortable shoes, when I run it looks more like fast walking. I vow to my husband that I will never sleep in a tent without an air mattress again.
For eighteen years, on this page of this magazine, I’ve written about things like this—things that have mattered to me, things that have made me reflect on the whys of life. And now I am winding down my time as editor. There’s more to say about this on page 9, and more still with the Fall/Winter issue, which will be a collection of my favorite stories we’ve published. I’m lucky to have had these pages. I’m lucky to be able to say goodbye like this.
My kids have grown up on this page. I love going back and reading about them, who I thought they were, what they meant to me. It was another way of keeping them small and safe, another kind of spaceship. But they’ve always been bigger, more alive, more complicated in the world beyond. This has been true of me, as well. But for now, there is this editor’s note, then a last one in December. And then, and always: change, adaptation, new things and old things, all held close.
1 comments have been posted.
Kathleen, thank you for 18 wonderful years at Oregon Humanities. It was just around that time that I began my relationship with OH as a reader, soon thereafter donor and now Board Member. I was an undergraduate studying English Literature and Composition on my way to teach high school and coach in rural western Oregon. I have grown up with your words and vision - helping all Oregonians share the stories that mattered most. Thank you for helping to us to connect, converse and work toward change.
Justin Chin | August 2019 | La Grande