Growing Up Gilbert

FullSizeRenderThere is a redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front. And behind the black front door at number 58:

“Ssshhh,” I whispered as I tiptoed passed their bedroom. They ignored me.

“Boys. BOYS! Sssshhhhhh.” My teeth hurt I clenched them so hard. “The baby’s sleeping,” I rasped at them. “SSHHHHH.”

The forceful sibilance twisted its way around the back of my neck in a painful spasm. My neck was stretched so taut, I thought my head would snap right off any minute. It would snap off and roll into the room and land in the space between them. They would look at my scary flashing eyes and the ugly, angry scowl on my face and kick my head straight through the window, shattering glass and decibels all over the floor.

They would not, could not hear me.

The doorbell rang. The dog barked. The baby wailed. So did I.

“Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!!” I think I yelled it. My throat hurt so I must have yelled it.

I don’t remember who was at the door, but the dog was still barking and the baby was still crying and, “Juice, Mommy, juice!” She had tried to do it herself and there was apple juice on the floor and in her shoes and dripping onto the cucumbers in the fridge.

The tension marched up and down my spine like an army of angry red ants, gathering in a pinching, hurting cluster along my shoulders. My blood boiled with unexplained rage, or rather perfectly explained rage: all I needed were two hours of quiet so the baby could nap. Two hours. In a 12-hour day packed full of fun and activity and “Dora the Explorer” and crackers and a gazillion sippy cups full of apple juice, were two calm, drama-free hours too much to ask for? Obviously yes, if you’re three, six and eight. And then the dog peed on the rug. GODDAMMIT.

***

The doors are all closed. The dog snoozes in the corner, too old and worn out to hear the doorbell anymore. I hear the TV turn on downstairs and someone is playing the drums in the boys’ room.

From the quiet of my bedroom I look out the window at the giant redwood tree, the green fronds of its branches reaching up to the baby blue sky. Like my own babies reached up to me from their cribs after naps, arms outstretched.

It has grown in the last nine years, this majestic tree.

I didn’t notice while I was nursing and changing diapers and shushing infants to sleep and siblings to keep quiet. While I was overwhelmed by mothering and what felt like too many little children eating and yelling and playing and sleeping. And growing. In this house. Number 58. Behind the black front door, with the big redwood tree in the back yard and a few hydrangea bushes in the front.

I didn’t notice.

***

I didn’t notice the rage, that bubbling, boiling rage, slowly reduce to a gentle simmer. To a soft heat that flared only occasionally when a now tween-age boy talked back or rolled his eyes, when an inquisitive little girl experimented with lipstick not only on her own person but on every bathroom surface, or when an impulsive toddler found a marker in the minivan and decorated the car seats.

As the redwood tree moved ever upward in silence, I didn’t quite notice that the stretches of peace and quiet lasted longer and longer. They could write their own names and fix their own snacks, shoot baskets outside and read to each other. Slowly, imperceptibly, over nine tumultuous years Mommy became Mom, and the fiery cauldron of overwhelming and angry fatigue quietly ceased bubbling on a burner in my belly… and then there were no more babies behind the black front door at number 58.

***

No more babies, but a teen, a couple of tweens and a little boy who stares up in awe. “Is this a redwood tree?”

This summer we say goodbye to the house we’ve grown up in. I stare out my bedroom window and listen. There is no rage rushing through my veins, no sssshhhh hissing from my lips. There are muted voices gently bouncing off the walls and an old dog snores softly in the corner.

And there is a very tall redwood tree stretching silently up to the sky in the back.

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This post is dedicated to my friend Matt who first coined the phrase “Growing up Gilbert” about nine years ago, while sitting at our dining room table behind the black front door at number 58. This summer we say goodbye to number 58, but not to our memories and all that we have loved and learned in this house.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “This summer…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Lisa from The Meaning of Me, Reta from Calculated Chaos, and Allison from The Latchkey Mom.

35 thoughts on “Growing Up Gilbert

  1. Nicki, this is incredible and so full of amazing imagery. Number 58 sounds like it’s been a lovely place to grow up Gilbert. Also the Mommy became Mom makes me really sad because I’m not ready to be Mom. That’s weird right? Anyway, the sleeping dog, the rage, your head being kicked – these will be in my mind all day. Thank you. ❤

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  2. Nicki, this post gave me chills. I a so sorry you have to say good-bye to you childhood home:(. It looks beautiful and the memories…oh. I cannot imagine. But you were also lucky to have had one childhood home to treasure. Hopefully a good family will be replacing yours.

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    • Thank you Allie! Your comment is so meaningful.
      My childhood home is in South Africa, but this one is my kids’ which makes it equally (more?) emotional. I think there’s room for another childhood home in their lives :). I too hope the black front door opens to a family that appreciates the redwood tree and all the wonderful things about the house.

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  3. It’s nice that your kids are all old enough to have memories of number 58. We moved to our home right before my youngest was born, but Gwen doesn’t remember our first townhouse.

    Such a beautiful comparison of then and now, and how your home has embraced all of you as you grew within in.

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  4. What a lovely looking home. That dormer window at the top? Love it. Is it a bedroom? I am actually rather happy for you that you have the chance to move on. To make new memories all the while hanging on to the old ones. Change is good. My cedar tree is the cousin to your redwood. Years ago a friend gave me a cement pig as a thank you. I wasn’t proud of what I did to achieve this thank you (now there’s a story I’m sworn to secrecy over and wish I could share) so I dumped it and ignored it by the tree. The tree has gradually grown around it. Protecting it? Hiding it more likely. And that rage you describe? Yup. Many a night I sat on the outside stairs, staring unseeingly at the tree and bolting down my dinner in anger. “I love you two but I cannot have dinner with you tonight. Your behavior doesn’t warrant it …”

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    • I have a strong affection for pigs – it’s my not so secret desire to replace Pretzel with a pig…
      The window at the top was originally a huge attic that we have converted into a very cool bedroom for the two boys. They love it up there :).
      Thank you Kelly for the lovely wishes and the understanding of the rage. Moving on… a good thing ❤

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  5. I could feel your tension and then the exhale. So excited for you with the new move! But must be mixed leaving behind the place you became a family. All good things in your new home! xo

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    • Thank you Mimi! When we first moved into this house there was no plan to have a fourth… this really is the place we became the family we are :). That’s lovely to think about – thank you!

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  6. I think what resonated with me most from your post, besides how lovely it is, was the notion that those early years were hard and not necessarily my favorite phase in my motherhood journey. I need to hear that, to remind myself that not loving and ooohhing and ahhing over the early years is okay. I’m much better with the growing peace and independence of having school-age kids.

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  7. We’ve also moved from a special house (actually also in NorCal), where I honestly thought that I would raise my kids through high school graduation. It’s funny how life propels us gently through some many changes, both expected and unexpected. I’m sure that where ever you land next this summer, you’ll create some Growing up Gilbert memories with your family. And maybe there’ll be a redwood tree there waiting for y’all!

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  8. Nicki, every bit of this is just beautiful. You’ve captured the sentiment that runs through all of those years of mothering and growing and changing…while that solid old tree soldiers silently on in the back yard. I wish you many fond memories from #58 and many new ones in #132.

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  9. Dearest Nicki,
    This is such a powerful piece of yours, quite the match for the torrent of energy from No. 58.
    The memories are so vivid for me, and for too long a time they have been memories: the barking dog, the babies, order in it’s perfection (insert envy here), chaos. The rushing in and even faster rushing out. And with an abrupt pull on the black door, the noise would be left behind; if only for us to share a brief ride in private, to pick up the next passenger. I am in awe of you, you reinvented yourself, or rather, made room for your old true self to coexist with the gem of a mother you are, rage bottled up and all. I will always treasure the time spent at No. 58; the difficult goodbyes after a long afternoon of playing with the Gilbert boys, the darn smoke detector going off repeatedly, at 6:00 am, while you were diligently roasting livers for a Mad Men party. But most achingly, I treasure you providing the softest landing I could have asked for, on a rainy Halloween night when Ethan was just three weeks old and Steven left for Arizona, again! Wherever life takes you, my dearest Gilbert, you grow in my heart like that redwood will continue to do, no matter how often you notice it.

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