Twenty-one houses ring our street from its southern bend to the spot where it disappears around a corner to the north. The street is a loop, twice as long as our 21-house stretch, but this is as far as the neighborhood parents will let our children roam. Most evenings after school, the boys and girls ride their bikes up one side of the street and down the other. They call this “circling the globe.” I live on the globe with my husband, my daughter and my 6-year-old son, Parker.
Parker can reach my shoulder without standing on his tiptoes. He stops me often in the kitchen to make sure that nothing has changed and he can still reach my shoulder, and when he finds he can, he walks away smiling. Once, a dentist remarked that Parker’s two front teeth could fall out any day. For two years, he refused to wiggle them or take a bite of corn or do anything else that might knock one loose. Four days a week, my son wears what he calls his “blue suit:” blue track shorts, blue t-shirt, tall blue socks. Three days a week he wears his “Giants suit:” orange track shorts, San Francisco Giants t-shirt, short black socks. My son owns other clothes. He just hates change.
Nine months ago we told Parker that we were moving from Eugene, Oregon to Las Vegas, Nevada. He’d have to change towns and teachers with just 10 weeks left in the school year. He asked if we could get a house with a garage and “automatic rug” for his bedroom. Relieved that he hadn’t burst into tears, I agreed to both conditions and threw a new bunk bed in the pot. He more or less went about his business: mornings in kindergarten in a tiny school with Miss Susan, his sweet old hippie teacher; afternoons at the same daycare he’d attended since age 3.
And I went about my business, too: Booking the moving truck and finding the house with the automatic rug and telling Miss Susan that we’d be pulling Parker out of school just after the unit on wood products and before she could send home the last of his poetry folder. She received this news gravely. I imagined she must be contemplating exactly what kind of mother would move her little boy that late in the school year. I blinked back, wondering the same thing, myself.
I once wrote a news story about a boy who moved a lot during the school year. In what I thought of as a writerly flourish, I more or less (OK, more) likened his predicament to tsunamis and other catastrophes. His mother called and yelled at me after she read the story, and now I could see why. It’s crummy to pull your kid away from the friendly and the familiar and strand him like a jellyfish on an unfamiliar shore. Not as bad as losing your home or marriage, but as guilt-inducing scenarios go, pretty crummy. I sent up a little prayer that my kid who didn’t like change would turn out to be a resilient kid who didn’t like change, and we loaded his bike into the moving truck.
Oh, yes. The bike. We’d bought my son a bike for his fourth Christmas, a red, 13-inch number with a hornet emblazoned on the seat. My son loved it from the start – loved the idea of it, anyway. He wouldn’t get on it unless either his dad or I grabbed the seat, helped him balance and held on the entire time he “rode.” The key to a successful bike ride was never, ever, ever letting go. Still, I pined for my Metaphorical Mothering Moment, the one where the Nurturing Mother senses that her Blossoming Child has achieved, through her diligence, the skills and confidence needed to pedal into the Next Phase of Life. And then she shoots some killer video of it and posts it on Facebook.
So I kinda pushed it.
“He’s ready,” I’d think, holding on to the back of his bike. “Definitely ready,” I’d think, my back throbbing from the awkward ballet of steadying my son on a 13-inch bike with his 20-pound baby sister strapped to my body. So I’d let go. And he’d crash. Every time. And then he’d look at me like, “Mom! This is my childhood, here!”
“You let go!” he’d say.
“I thought you were ready!” I’d say.
“I’ll TELL you when I’m ready!”
That’s the bike we put on the truck. He’d already outgrown it, and he still couldn’t ride it yet.
Parker and his sister went to stay with their grandparents for a week while my husband and I scaled the mountain of an interstate move, dismantling one motel base camp for the next in four days down I-5 and across to I-15, with me at the wheel of the SUV and Ryan at the helm of a 21-foot U-Haul with our other car trailered behind it. We called it our “second honeymoon,” and it was, minus Paris and relaxation. I tried to take in the scenery, but my eyes kept coming back to the U-Haul, drifting in the lane and taking each bump with a jolt. It seemed so precarious, all of our things heaped inside. I could see it toppling over in a strong wind, our belongings scattering, Ryan climbing out, safe, and the two of us standing at the shoulder sorting through it all before the wrecker came.
We cut across the California-Nevada border during the golden hour, and the cliffs and mesas along the highway glowed. And then they parted and we saw Las Vegas, and moving there seemed immediately like an enormous mistake that we would spend years correcting. We hadn’t even seen the city limits sign, and it flashed at me: mistake. We checked into a Holiday Inn Express, where a lobby sign with the logo of a saucy, winking Mr. Sunshine announced Ryan was the Customer of the Day, for which he’d been awarded a snack-sized bag of chips, a bottle of water, a pen, and no room upgrade.
The next morning we met our realtor at our new house to accept the keys from the previous owner, a slight, exhausted man named Anthony, who was moving to Palm Springs with his two tiny dogs.
“Yep!” he said. “I am outta here!” The realtor glowered at him. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Right.
Anthony showed us around the house, pointing out a few decorative touches he’d left behind. A vase. A piece of bathroom art. A small table and two chairs on the front porch. I sat there that night and watched airplanes approaching McCarran, circling the globe, dropping from the blue down, down, down into the desert. I imagined passengers buzzing, because – Oh, look! There’s The Strip! – which they would leave richer than anyone ever has, what will they do with all the money, would anyone ever find out if they cheated on their husband/wife or did a few lines of blow? I thought about how they started in out in one world that day. And ended up in another.
The day after we’d unloaded the furniture from the truck and unpacked most of the boxes Ryan drove me to the airport. I kissed him goodbye at the curb and called, “Thanks for the honeymoon,” over my shoulder. Then I caught an early Portland flight to collect the kids from my father-in-law. My children greeted me with an onslaught of bad behavior, like they’d spent eight days holding in an unspoken fear that I wouldn’t return and could only release it by fighting over my lap and screaming for more Sprite and kicking the seat back of the passenger in the next row.
We left in the Portland drizzle and landed in 81-degree Vegas weather, and I hustled my kids past the airport slot machines; past the shirtless, Thunder Down Under male revue poster; past the tourists, already hammered at 3 p.m., and I said, “This is home, kids.
“This is home.”