when we all add up

31 + 31 + 3 + 1 IMG_8848

He’s obsessed with numbers now. All he wants to do is stand at his easel and scribble numerals in chalky pastel, then furrow his brow and punch the digits into his cash register.

Adding and subtracting have transformed his small world into an explosion of equations. He begs us to fill up the chalkboard or the paper with long strings of numbers he can add together. Then he greets the familiar ones as old friends.

70…that’s Papa’s age. 22 is my favorite song on the CD. 50 is for 50 states. 28 is the date.

This is how the world makes sense to him right now, at the still-small stage of 3.5. Neatly ordered by numbers, waiting to be added or subtracted at the touch of his fingers pounding the calculator keys.

It’s not my language – I love words and art and music – but I try to meet him there. (And try to remind myself as I struggle to scrape together interesting-enough equations to delight him dawn till dusk, that words and art and music sing with numbers all their own.)

But when he tires of adding up all the units of measurement I know and the phone numbers I can remember and the street numbers of family addresses and the birth dates of old friends, I always default to this one:

31 + 31 + 3 + 1

All the ages under this roof. Two parents, two kids. Added up together.

For a brief moment in time, our ages are caught up in a numerical anagram: they in us and we in them.

Back when my boy started this obsession with numbers, I realized for the first time that our ages would be patterned like this for a few short months. I’m no math whiz myself, so when I tried to calculate if and when this might happen again in our lifetimes, my brain got bored and slipped into pondering the grocery list. Suffice it to say, it seems a rare occurrence. (The left-brained engineer at my elbow agrees.)

But the rarity seems right for now – this slender sliver of a season when our lives are so intimately, bodily, exhaustingly bound up with each other. These months (because we still measure in months) when we’re still a clump of a family unit, not yet stretched by the sprawl of adolescents who strain to pull as far away as they can, or redefined by a Rolodex with separate entries for every adult child’s address.

Right now we’re all bound up together. 31 + 31 + 3 + 1.

Our two boys are their own selves, to be sure. But they are still so wrapped up in us, and we in them. Sometimes when these two squirmy worms are wriggling all over the couch and each other and my lap and the book we’re trying to read, I find myself wondering where each of us starts and the other ends.

Parenting brings about a strange and profound redefinition of self. You are at once the same person you always were and a new creation, birthed by the child before you. Magazines warn you not to lose yourself in the exhaustion of new motherhood, yet you can’t help but stare at the bleary-eyed stranger in the mirror and wonder what happened to the girl you once were.

And yet there is something of you in them, something of your younger self that glimmers back in their eyes or frown or laughter. You see your spouse in their smile, too, and bits of others in the shimmering hologram that is a child: the spitting image of grandma in this light, an uncle’s twin in that photo.

You catch your breath when you see it, and then it’s gone.

31 + 31 + 3 + 1. Scribbled on his dusty chalkboard, these numbers speak truth of this fleeting stage when we are so easily glimpsed in one another. When we are so closely linked to those who surround us.

When we all add up together.


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  1. amanday@q.com on 5 March 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I love your writing, Laura!  Amanda Ylvisaker

    • Laura on 5 March 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you so much, Amanda!

  2. Ginny Kubitz Moyer on 1 March 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Beautiful! Isn’t it amazing how our kids gravitate towards “languages” that we don’t naturally speak? (like numbers, science, and, in my case, sports); I love what you write about this sliver of time when you are all so connected. Savor it! I am learning how quickly it passes…..

    By the way, today’s date is a palindrome! Something for your numbers guy to love.

    • Laura on 6 March 2013 at 10:58 pm

      Ginny – I didn’t even realize I had posted this on a palindrome day with the very numbers I was writing about! *facepalm* See, numbers really aren’t my thing. 😉

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