Last night I sat outside by the pool, reading my book, comfy on my outdoor sofa, feet propped up on the wicker ottoman. Little by little the light began to fade; it was, after all, 6:30 on a Saturday night in mid-September. The air was crisp; eventually I returned inside to fetch a sweatshirt, but stubbornly I went back outside with my book once again. The sky was a brilliant blue, just like summer! The leaves on the trees were mostly green, just like summer! The water in the pool was so crystal clear and beautifully aquamarine, a Caribbean shade that I had not expected when I chose the new pool lining—it still looked like summer!
Out of the corner of my eye I saw it: a yellow leaf, twirling gently through the air, landing on the green lawn. It moved slowly, as though beckoning to me, ensuring that my eyes had no choice but to notice. That leaf had a message for me: face the facts, Becky. Summer is over.
I knew that leaf was right, I knew it was time to face it. It happens to me every year; I want to run away from the change. But I can’t argue with the seasons: the hot humid days are behind us. The bright sunshine that heats up the pavement and keeps the pool water warm has begun to angle away from us. The water is cold now. Not cool, cold. I can put my feet in it, I can drag my fingers through it, but I can’t quite bear to submerge my entire body in it. It’s cold. Face it, Becky.
Life is full of moments like this, when you realize that you can’t leave things in your peripheral vision anymore. It’s time to focus directly on what’s in front of you. Be brave! Or be scared—and do it anyway.
This weekend I faced something else besides the end of summer. This weekend one of my children’s two stepsisters got married. I have known them for their entire lives, having once a upon a time been a member of their parents’ friend group. Both have always been warm and kind and lovely to me, and I appreciate more than they can ever know how my daughter has become not the stepsister, but the third sister.
Because my role in this situation is “stepsister’s mom,” it makes perfect sense that I wouldn’t be at this wedding. It’s the way life goes; we all evolve in relation to ourselves, and in relation to other people. I loved looking at all the pictures that were posted online, thinking about how three toddlers playing with blocks have become a bride and two bridesmaids. It was a delight to see grown women in gorgeous dresses smiling into the camera.
But there was a painful undertone for me, and I must face it. My baby boy was not an usher in the wedding; there are no pictures of a smiling Matt, striking a pose in a tux. He would have loved to be in that wedding, because despite his football obsession and messy room, he enjoyed dressing up. I have every reason to believe that he would have insisted on wearing a bowtie. It’s hard to see those pictures without Matt.
Personally, I’m certain that even though he is no longer with us, he was at that wedding in his own way. Personally, I’m certain that he was watching over the entire event. He probably made sure the bride didn’t step on her hem, and he kept his sister from breaking her ankle while dancing in new shoes. I bet he sent the blue sky with a vaguely heart-shaped cloud, and I bet the stars sparkled just a bit brighter than usual. Knowing Matt, he probably played some tricks here and there as well, to remind people that even though he is gone, he is still part of us.
So, I faced it. I looked at the pictures and videos and I felt genuinely happy. I wish my kids’ sister all the best: happiness, good health, a strong marriage. I pray that she feels like the prettiest, luckiest, happiest person there ever was. Because I really love her.
As life goes on, I have learned to face being in the background. My daughter is an adult—she has an entire life of her own that has nothing to do with me. She will build her own family—she will be at the center of her child’s life the way I was at the center of her life. I am extended family; I’m an empty-nester before my time. It’s taken some getting used to, that’s for sure. The only way for me to do it was to face it. It was thrust upon me abruptly; suddenly I didn’t have a boy anymore. No more cheering for him at football games. No high school prom or graduation. No college visits; no care packages sent to a budding adult. I’m on the outskirts, and it was not the gradual transformation we hope to have. But I’ve faced it, that’s what I do.
I suppose Matt has had to face it too, way up there in heaven. He gets to watch, but he doesn’t get to participate. He must stay in the background, just like me. It’s hard, isn’t it, buddy. We just watch and we wish for the best and we have no control over any of it. We must continually resolve to do our best—and then do it.
I know you’re doing your best, Mattyboy. I’m doing my best too. I’ve become comfortable in the place where I belong and I’m doing what I should do. I have my husband, my parents & sisters, my friends, my books, my job. I am living the best life I know how. I work hard to engage fully in all the parts of my daughter’s life that are appropriate. I don’t want to be one of those weird intrusive bossy moms—but I’m ready at any moment should she need absolutely anything.
Facing those leaves falling off the trees. Knowing that summer is over. Closing the pool. Rummaging for sweaters, getting ready to put away my sandals. Finding joy in the change of seasons, finding aspects that I like. Knowing that summer will be back, my pool will be open again. Stay in your lane, Becky, keep looking forward. Face it. You can do it.