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once upon a time

7:00 last night

Me:  I’m watching another one.  Are you watching with me?

Mags:  Oh, yeah.

Mags and I are obsessed with the show, Once Upon a Time.  We got out of it for a while, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t what it once was.  And, I suppose in a little way it isn’t exactly the same framework today as it was when it began.  That story line—however captivating—ran out of fuel. Just like Sleepy Hollow—the network common ground of Will and me—is not what it once was.  The original story line came to an end. However, the newest one is no less thrilling.  No less enjoyable. No less watchable. It is, in some ways, even more so.

7:48

Mags:  We’re watching another one.

Me:  Of course we are.

And Mags and me?  We are Once Upon a Time marathoners.  It happens randomly, never ever planned, but we’ll catch one…and then suddenly the one after that seems necessary.  And the one after that.

I happened to watch one last night after dinner.  It was the premiere of last season—Dark Swan–in which the protagonist, Emma Swan, becomes evil.  “The Dark One,” as they call it on the show. We had skipped it and, honestly, were fine with it.  Until we saw it again.

Mags:  I’m not watching it.  

Me:  That’s fine.  I am though. It’s fun…like seeing old friends!

Mags:  Still. It’s not the same.

Mags was brushing my hair, as she likes.  My hair is longer than hers, so she loves to brush it (one hundred strokes, Mom!), to fix it, to try out new hairstyles.

8:35

Emma (on the television):  “See, I know this guy—he’s a real coward…”

Me:  Who’s she talking to?!

Mags:  Oh my god! I think—

Emma: “I need you to teach him—”

Me:  {gasp!} It’s the girl from…

Emma:  “—to be—”

Mag and me:  Brave!

Emma: “BRAVE.”

Me:  Eeeeee!  This is so exciting!!

Mags:  I love this! Next episode please!

And Maggie wasn’t interested at first. But soon came the longer lapses between strokes, as she was caught up in the action on the screen.  The paused braiding as she waited to catch dialogue between characters.

The, “Wait…shhh”s.

The “Okay.  Who is that again?”s.

The, “Oh, I remember..."s.

Soon, we were sharing the same blanket and the same bag of chips.  Watching episode, after episode, after episode.

9:18

Mags:  Another!

Me:  Obviously!

We recapped our favorite parts, old and new.  Reminded each other of plot twists we had forgotten.  Laughed and rewound when the Wicked Witch (from Oz) and her sister, the Evil Queen (from Snow White) argued on-screen.  It must be so fun to play the bad guy, we imagine!

10:05

Me:  Okay.  Last one.

Mag:  One more after that?

Me:  No. Last one for tonight.

Mag:  Okay. WAIT.  Let me get an ice cream cone.

And it hit me, as we were tucked on our beds later that night.  With Maggie in the loft. Me, reading in my room. The echo of Will and his girlfriend laughing at their movie in the basement.  That we, too, are not like our original story line. Gone are the days of 8:30 bedtimes, and small toothbrushes, and bath times that I preside over.  Chatting while they want me nearby, sitting on the toilet, so I can rinse out their hair before wrapping them in a bath towel.

Gone are—even some days—the dinner time that sees all three of us around the same table.  Gone is the sound of Nickelodeon, and all of Maggie’s and Will’s childhood shows with catchy intro songs that we all sing together.

The thing is?

The thing is…we are not what we once were.  But it’s okay. Really. It’s more than okay. and I’ll tell you why.

Here are the days we have adult conversations, with them seeking adult-quality advice, and I do my very best to pass along all that I have learned of value.

Here are the days of Will and his girlfriend trying to figure out the directions to cook Mac&Cheese in the kitchen.  Laughing a little at each other and a lot at themselves.

Here are the days of quoting old Nickelodeon shows and arguing the relative merits of each over dinner.  And really, I mean really… what IS the best Spongebob quote? This is a debate that could rage for days on end.

Here are the days when Will and Mags help in the garden.  They do the heavy lifting. “Here, Mom. Let me get that.”

Here are the days that some evenings Will and Sarah join us in the living room–just last week or so.  Maggie braided Sarah’s hair and Sarah let Mags fiddle around on her SnapChat account–just because Mags doesn’t have her own.  Will, meanwhile, sat on the couch with me, and we talked about life and thoughts and futures. Big guy stuff. Adult stuff. Stuff that makes a mama proud.

I just texted with my friend Diane yesterday, and we marveled that the kids are growing up.  There were years when, working together, we were both in the parenting trenches. And yes there is always more to do.  It’s a job without end. But it eases up in many ways. The intensity of parenting, the sheer volume of parenting that you do as they get older, shifts.  Parenting becomes an exercise in being the foundation, rather than the umpire, or the director, or the window through which every moment passes. It’s more guidance than instruction.

Diane said, “I love to see the adults they become, but I sure miss them being home.”  And then with a winky face she added, “A little”

And do you know what?  It’s true! Those days were tiring.  I didn’t feel it as much at the time, as I do looking back, because I think we are all imbibed with the energy we need to do the job in front of us. But I don’t know if I would take those days back even if I could.

You miss them, sure.  The smallness of them.  The way they could fit in your lap.  The cute little cartoon pajamas. But there is such a pride in who they’ve become.  And Maggie is still young, yet. But she is so fun to converse with.  She is an education unto herself.

And Will.  Gosh, Will I could send out into the world and I know he’ll do right. Sure, sure life can happen, and I don’t want to count my chickens.  Right now I am knocking on wood…but everything else being equal? He’s a great guy. No, I don’t get to watch him Trick-or-Treat anymore. Or buy him school supplies.  But I get to watch him be a great person.   And to me?  That makes these the days.

You see, here are the days.

And those were the days.

Once upon a time–at every moment in time–we had it all.

And do you know?  We still do.

~originally published August 10, 2016


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