Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Got Your Back

by Zinta Aistars

Zing! And there is a burst of golden laughter.

I haven’t seen my son this happy and relaxed in a long time. I haven’t enjoyed hearing my daughter’s bubbles of laughter like this since I last saw her over the holidays. She’s paid us a surprise visit, driving out the two-and-a-half hours from Chicago to Kalamazoo on a snowy evening to spend a few days with “lil bro” before she starts a new job on Monday. The two didn’t see each other for the holidays, so they are making up for it now.

Zing! Giggle.

My son has a dry and clever wit, one-liners that come from who knows where and when you least expect them. Straight-faced, deadly serious, he arcs an eyebrow and lets another one-liner fly, until his sister is nearly bent over with belly laughs and begging for mercy. A grin teases at the corner of his mouth. His eyes are full of mischief and sparkle.

I sit back and share the glow, watching them. These are my moments. These are the times when I consider my life behind me, all the winding paths we three have traveled together and separately, the trials, the tribulations, the obstacles overcome, the hard challenges faced and beaten. None of it has been easy, but more times than one might expect have turned fun. I wouldn’t trade my little family for anything. No riches outshine this, no career replaces this, no other love greater.

I sit back and watch them, and my heart is warm with joy, simmering sweetly at peace. I sit back and let my eyes love them and know, if nothing else, here has been my reason for this roller coaster of a life on earth.

Funny, how when I was very young, barely into my twenties when I rocked my first baby, this blonde little girl prone to giggles, then 22 months later rocked her sibling, dark-haired boy, quiet and intent, I swore I wouldn’t live for my children. I would die for them, a thousand times, but not live for them, I said in youthful defiance … and then, that’s just what I did. I died a thousand deaths and I lived a thousand lives, all for them, and I grew ever richer from what both have given back to me.

I have done nothing greater than to be their mother, and nothing else I ever do will compare.

“Mish mash!” My blondie nearly squeals.

I couldn’t resist. Mish mash, this recipe-less meal, was our standby through our long years of struggle. Yet it became our favorite, never the same dish twice. Mish mash was what we called my throw-together meals of whatever I could find on a nearly empty pantry shelf and on the nearly bare shelves of the refrigerator. Sometimes potatoes, sometimes rice, other times pasta was the mainstay, with varied vegetables and different sauces. Maybe meat, maybe not. Somehow, it all came together into a tasty one-pot meal.

Tonight, I’ve brought out my biggest pan and am tossing in carved chunks of heritage turkey from the bird I roasted on Sunday … basmati rice and organic sweet corn … a mix of herbs and spices and plenty of the rich juices from the bird roasting yesterday. The two of them are already leaning over the big pan and taking in the aroma.

So the ingredients are a bit finer now. And look at them, so are they, grown into two fascinating adults on two very different paths. I consider them, their paths, and marvel at how very different they are. Even in their coloring—he is dark and she is light. He has green eyes and she has blue. He is tall and strong with the shoulders of a bull … able to leap tall buildings, I think, when I’m not looking. Surely push them around. But my girl, she’s petite, slight, blows away in a strong wind. He’s country … she’s city. He balked at being chained to a classroom … she went on for her master’s. He’s hung close to his hometown … she’s traveled the world. He takes life as it comes … she plans her steps out carefully. He tosses his dirty socks on the floor … her apartment is spotless. He tends toward going it alone … she’s a party wherever she goes.

Put the two together, and it’s an instant party of two. Somehow, it works. He cracks her up like nobody’s business, and she eases the tension in his otherwise serious approach like butter in summer sunshine.

We all sit down at the dinner table, dip our forks into the mish mash, and eat, licking our chops. Family dinner … it’s been a while, and I am humming with contentment. We talk about her new job as a development officer for a large non-profit, making the world right, and how he is getting by self-employed, collecting scrap metal and cleaning it up, selling it to the recycling center by the pound. He makes dead cars purr again and installs stereos to bring music alive and wires the lights into dark houses.

“Want to go dumpster diving tonight?” he says.

She blinks. “Dumpster diving, huh,” she considers. “Sure. Never been. Why not.”

Clearing the dinner dishes, they prepare to go, and she snaps photos of lil bro in his diving gear, a tiny miner’s light strapped to his forehead, backpack on his back, black gloves with nubby palms, workman’s boots. Her long hair is twirled up into a loose bun, sprays of blonde coming loose and soft around her face. He tells her about his route, a series of dumpsters at businesses that have cleared him to dive for steely riches, sometimes even leaving out boxes and bags for him. Her eyes are big and bright with anticipation; she texts her beau back in Chicago, “Going dumpster diving with lil bro!” Beau texts back: “Y’all know how to have a good time in Kalamazoo!”

Off they go, laughing, rosy-faced, jostling each other all the way to her car in the cold winter night.

I settle in with a book for the quiet evening, still smiling. My mind won’t attach to the page. I’m still thinking about them … my two golden ones, my prize. I see them as babes, pudgy thighs, chubby cheeks, downy hair. I see them little, hand in hand, ready for the first day of school. I see them at Halloween, witch and hobo, playing the part. I see them making music together, her playing the cello and he reciting a ticklish line, already then with the quick wit, hands stuck in his pockets. I see them splashing in the waves, two wet babies, bright as the summer day. I see them on the hiking trail, and he is always first, ever the brave explorer, and she is always just behind him. She’s got his back. She has always had his back, and he hers.

No matter what I’ve done in my life, how I’ve lived it, I know—I’ve done this one thing right.

1 comment:

  1. Gorgeous, Zinta! I love seeing these photos.