Django and Lovey are thirteen now and smarter and just overall better than I was at their age.

This week we go to a haunted hotel and spend a night together there. We luck out and there’s even a terrifying thunderstorm. It grows dark and ominous, and the rain pounds hard against the window panes, and I tell them that the electricity will probably go out, and they’re young enough to make those fucking ridiculous, adorable shrieking sounds that kids make in states of gleeful terror.

God, I love these people.

It’s unbelievable that they’re in my life. Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell my constantly-devastated former self that one day two beautiful kids would voluntarily cuddle up next to my body and I’d know the meaning of life, have everything a woman could ever need.

The hotel suite has a tall, king-sized bed. Lush with a pillow-top and a fluffy white comforter that I would wear to my wedding, were I the marrying type.

We’re all sprawled across it and going to watch The Shining, which plays round the clock on channel 42. But then Django and I get too scared.

Not Lovey. She’s not afraid of anything.

Except sometimes being alive. Like the week prior when we took her hyperventilating little body to the emergency room at two in the morning for an anxiety attack. Which would have been a bad story, except that my life doesn’t seem to accept bad stories anymore and we all ended up having an inexplicably good time. Lovey is even still wearing her hospital ID bracelet as a fond reminder. And so precious the way my Django showed up as the kind of man he’s going to be, the kind of man he’s becoming. Taking charge, talking sweet Lovey down. Nurturing and strong. If I weren’t already his mother, I would have fallen in love with him that night.

But back at the hotel we’re all fighting about who gets to sleep in that enormous bed and who gets the pull-out couch. What I like about us is that each one feels he or she deserves it. I remember being the kind of kid who would have insisted that others take it and then felt like shit when they did.

But my kids are lordly, know their worth, and even my mediocre parenting doesn’t seem to bring them down.

In the end, I give them the bed. I’m the most tired, and they’re more tenacious anyway.

“Goodnight Gramma,” they often say, teasingly, at my earlier bedtimes. They who stay up until three in the morning giggling their heads off about god-knows-what.

I unfold the pull-out couch and fall asleep quickly while they’re happily playing cards and setting their iPhone alarms for early to ensure we make it down to breakfast.

But at some point later, I softly wake to one on either side of me, lovingly touching my arms, my face.

“Keep your eyes closed, and guess which one of is which,” Lovey whispers.

And I feel my Django’s and Lovey’s warm and smooth fingertips run down my cheeks.

I guess right, and they laugh, snuggle in closer.

It’s not relevant, but I don’t remember ever touching my mother. And I’m not saying that as a sad thing, so let me restate it. I don’t remember even wanting to touch her. And certainly not at age 13.

So how did I manage to land in a life with this beautiful boy and girl who would rather cozy up with me on a pull-out couch than sleep in a big, luxurious bed?

No, really. How did I?

Nothing, not one thing, could ever break my heart more than this does.

And I could swear I’m going to be better person for them, but we all know I’m often preoccupied and narcissistic. Plus, the impression I get is that part of what they love about me is my shortcomings. Not sure how that works, but it’s true.

On the drive home, we read from a journal I pulled down from the shelf for this trip. It’s from when I was their age, and as I drive the kids take turns reading and mimicking the voice they think I would have had. My 13-year-old journal is full of cliches like, “Love is pain” and “Life is a bitch” and catalogues all of my various obsessions and disappointments.

“You haven’t changed at all!” my kids scream, laughing and laughing and laughing.

And in so many ways they’re right. And it actually is funny.

But honestly? I really don’t remember being that moody and erratic, so far out of control.

The parts of me that are similar are much lighter now. I’ve developed a certain touch-and-go I didn’t have back then. Or maybe somewhere along the line, I managed to carve out the life I actually wanted.

Whatever the case, my angst-ridden ramblings from age 13 are in a way insightful, in that they serve as some left-of-center reminder to keep a closer eye on my kids. Watch for signs of uncertainty in them. Right now, they’re the helium in their own balloons. Miraculously strong and gorgeous and resilient. But life is unpredictable and full of sharp things. Who really knows, right?

And I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to just let them sink.


5 thoughts on “helium

  1. I absolutely loved this. So beautifully and tenderly and honestly written. I felt I was right there with you and those two beautiful kids of yours. I love the way you write about them and the relationship you have with each other. You are all so blessed. And how you described them–the helium in their own balloons! Perfect. I too hope they never lose that. And judging from what you’ve written here, if they begin to flag, you will pump them right up!

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