Le Petit is in La Rochelle for the school vacation. For ten days. Without us, his parents. I'm not sure he's even thinking about us much, believe it or not, since he's with my in-laws. Every day, they'll be taking him to the beach and to Ile de Ré and letting him get all covered with sand and ice cream and unconditional love.
I miss him, though the house is calmer and neater with only Mademoiselle here, especially when she takes her long afternoon nap. There are no scuffles to keep the little sister out of the Lego corner (Mademoiselle has already dismantled everything and I've put the pieces neatly away in bins); no dada-esque preschool narratives at the dinner table. I keep catching myself wondering where he is for a brief, terrified moment, or expecting him to pop out of the next room, before I remember he's off having fun. The night before he left I dreamed that we'd let him wander the streets of Olympia, Washington on his own. He went to the park and the Farmer's Market all by himself, and my nutty, anxious subconscious followed him wondering if this made me a bad parent. I'm not making this up. My shoulders and neck hurt for three days before he left. My mommy-reptilian-brain has it in for me.
At the same time, my rational, conscious self is not at all concerned, because I trust my in-laws with my children more than I trust just about anyone else on earth. My mother-in-law pushes overprotective anxiety to new limits, seeing potential accidents everywhere -- I worry about her, but not for a minute about Le Petit. And just as my own grandparents did, le Petit's grandparents have almost endless reserves of patience and creativity to share. He will eat his favorite foods, be consulted on the destination of every outing, be listened and read to, and basically be the center of the solar system for a week and a half.
I'm reading Anne Lamott's new book Some Assembly Required right now. I read Operating Instructions, her memoir of the first year of her son's life, when le Petit was a baby, and re-read it in the first months after Mademoiselle was born. In that book, she described the joy, chaos, drudgery, terrifying uncertainty, and wonder of having a baby with an accuracy that is both hilarious and poignant. I'm sure I not the first mother who is grateful to her for finding the words that I couldn't find myself. In Some Assembly, that baby has grown up (or almost) and now has a baby of his own, and Lamott describes her journey as mother and grandmother.
"The job of a good parent," she writes, "Is to be dispensable. No one remembered to tell my parents that, but I know it is true. It's not morally right to make yourself indispensable."
I read that and the truth of it punched me in the stomach. Although she's talking about her adult son and not little kids like le Petit and Mademoiselle, I realized something important: my job here is to get out of the way. I must let my in-laws and le Petit (and Mademoiselle, too) have their own close, true relationship.
My mother-in-law brings over new dresses for Mademoiselle, and patches and re-patches up the knees in le Petit's trousers. She knits sweaters and buys shoes and coats. She comes over on Wednesdays to take le Petit to music class on her push scooter, and stays with Mademoiselle on weekday mornings so she can sleep in while my husband takes le Petit to school. My father-in-law reads Babar and Mini-loup over and over and over again, colors pictures, makes special trips with le Petit to the library. When they both babysit at night, Mademoiselle stays awake, squeezing every story and cuddle she can out of them and refusing to go to bed until we get home. "But she'll cry if we put her down!" they explain when we walk in the door. Mademoiselle smiles at us in triumph.
I used to see this as some validation of myself. I felt loved because of the love they had for my kids. Not consciously, but still. Now I see how absurd this is. Duh. It's not about you, stupid. And isn't that wonderful? (Did I ever mention that I was a wee bit needy and self-centered at times before I had kids?)
My dad and stepmom will be in town right after le Petit gets back from La Rochelle, and it'll be their turn to shower the kids with unconditional grandparent love. It isn't easy for them, since they live halfway around the world, but they go out of their way to make up for geography. It seems to work, since le Petit regularly builds the Space Needle and Mount Rainier out of Legos alongside the Eiffel Tower. Here, my job for the moment is more than to just to get out of the way: I try to make English, and Seattle, and my family and roots an important part of my kids' lives. I won't let them forget chez maman.
Someday, perhaps le Petit will fly as an unaccompanied minor on a transatlantic flight from Paris to Seattle. Then I'll really freak out for sure.
In the meantime, in between the irrational anxiety that is part and parcel of parenthood, I'll remember that Le Petit and Mademoiselle are pretty lucky to be so loved, and be grateful on their behalf.