Tag Archives: growing up

Goodbye, Max

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On a sweltering day in August 2008, I rushed to finish the walls of my son’s new bedroom, wiping sweat from my forehead as often as I wiped up the paint drops that spattered on the groaning wooden floor. My family was under a lot of pressure: time (only a few days before the academic year – and our new, full-time jobs – began), space (moving from our 2,400 square foot “forever home” to a smaller, older, charming cottage), and patience (we’d already moved once a couple months before, across the country into a crappy condo with gravel and glass for a front yard). Our son, Kai, was four, and impish Rory barely 16 months old. I worked all morning and into the afternoon, watching the sun rise over the eastern horizon and crest at Kai’s southern window, its heat radiating through bent, aged panes. When I was done, I pulled up the painter’s tape, rinsed my brush, and started free-handing a mural that has brought many smiles to the family over the years: the boy king, Max, from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, swinging in the trees with one of his wild friends.

Where the Wild Things Are is a simple book with spare, economical prose and delightful illustrations. It holds a special spot in my heart, inspiring me to mischiefs “of one kind and another” and inciting countless playful rumpuses. For me, the story resonates with comfort: the knowledge that, no matter where you go or what you do, you’ll always have someone who loves you, waiting on the other side to see your face again. This has taken on deeper significance since I’ve lost both of my parents, but, at the time I painted the mural, I only meant for Kai to see, daily, a scene full of laughter and imagination.

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Together, Max and Kai have suffered colds and flus, infections, bruises, and scrapes. He’s watched Kai grow, physically and emotionally: comforting Kai through the hurt feelings of misunderstandings with friends and with us, and cheering for his academic and extracurricular victories. He silently endured the awful phase in which Kai heard only the negatives in what I said, and he taught me secret ways to navigate and strengthen a sensitive boy’s heart.

I recently asked Kai to clean his room, and in the process sort through his belongings to determine if anything could be given away. Kai rose to the task, making several trips to the trashcan with loaded arms, and forming a small mountain of toys to donate. “You’re giving away your turtle?” I asked, eyeing the life-size plush toy, a once-treasured birthday gift, at the top of the mound. He looked at the turtle and back at me, saying, “That’s okay, right?” I gulped and nodded under Max’s gaze. Max stared somberly at both of us, taking in the truth: Kai’s lanky legs, wild hair, and pre-teen boy funk; the comics strewn beneath the bed; his eagerness to shed childish attachments.

So, on an equally balmy day eight summers later, with time enough to recognize the gravity of farewell, Kai and I tape the perimeter of his room, haul out the primer, and say goodbye to Max, his beast friend, and the shared memories in between. We all know it’s time.

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Goodbye, Max. And thank you.

© 2016 Julia Moris-Hartley

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Noodle Soup

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The patient insists that she feels well enough to go to school. She’s dressed in coordinating purple hues, combed her hair, and brushed her teeth. She finishes all of her cereal – an uncharacteristic act of dedication to the cause of attendance. She refuses medication. The doctor, pleasantly surprised, puts away the nuclear orange tincture of ibuprofen, and transitions to her duties as chauffeur. Doctor-chauffeur starts the car, and returns to find the patient huddled over the toilet, clutching her abdomen, tears streaming from glassy, red eyes. The patient cannot go to school. The patient cries more.

My knowledge as primary-physician-by-proxy quickly exhausts itself. An actual physician swabs Rory’s throat and rules out strep, then mono. Rory’s diagnosis eludes. The doctor prescribes medicine, advises apple juice, and hands Rory a purple balloon and a coupon for a free soft serve cone from the gas station. I feel discomfited that he’s determined roughly as much about Rory’s strange condition as I have. Rory and I stop for ice cream before coming home.

Rory requests noodle soup for lunch. We’ve shared many bowls of noodle soup between us, from ramen to canned to freshly made, spiked with lemon and sprinkled with bright green herbs. I happily oblige. We face each other at the table, slurping. Dark broth dots our chins.

“Remember when we used to eat noodles together after kindergarten?” I ask.

Rory nods, a noodle dangling halfway in its ascent. Color has returned to her freckled cheeks. She dispatches the noodle and grins. “Every Monday!”

Memories of those early-out Mondays resurface with warmth, followed by a pang. At the doctor’s office, we learned that Rory will surpass me in height in exactly eleven inches’ time. Too soon, there will be crushes and first loves, arguments and hurt feelings, pity jealousies and tears… so many first everythings. The future materializes like an unwelcome lunch guest. Nostalgia and dread intermingle in my bowl.

I remember how much I loved nursing Rory by lamplight, how she smelled like French bread and sunshine. I study the girl she’s become: her lovely golden-green eyes and flaxen eyelashes; her beautiful, forthcoming smile; her long fingers resting on the table. She is – and I hope always will be – my little girl, for the moment distracted from discomfort by a balloon and the curative power of noodle soup.

© Julia Moris-Hartley, 2015

 

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