May 15, 2007
All back home
To celebrate birthdays in our household, we hold a candle ceremony in the evening. I begin the ritual by grabbing random candles from windowsills and bedside tables, and gathering them on the oak bench we use as a coffee table until we have at least one candle for each person. Blonde Niece will begin lighting the candles while Spouse and I turn out all the lights.
Last weekend, as we gathered to celebrate Boy in Black's birthday, everyone fighting to sit on the comfy couch, I kept thinking how nice it was to have my kids home. Most colleges are done for the year so even our extra college kids are back home, too, settling into their summer jobs and coming over here to play Ultimate Frisbee.
My daughter was back in her spot in the big comfy chair, the candle on her lap lighting her face and hair. She never gets the chair to herself: First Extra lounged on the arm on one side, and Shaggy Hair squeezed in next to her with his own lit candle. Boy in Black was home, too, sitting on the fireplace hearth, a bandana tying back his long hair, his long legs stretched across the floor. With-a-Why was cuddled next to me on the couch, half-asleep, and Pirate Boy, on my other side, looked like he was asleep, although his hands were clutching a lit candle.
The ceremony is far less serious than you might imagine. Boy in Black, Shaggy Hair Boy, and First Extra never miss opportunities to crack jokes. They especially mock my need to go back and retell the story of Boy in Black's birth. The idea is that we are supposed to go around the circle, and each say something nice about Boy in Black, but the kids go off on tangents and remember-whens.
As I watched the kids, their faces lit by the candles they were holding, I kept thinking about an extra whom we haven't seen in over a year. Croaky is a young man with a deep frog-like voice who used to practically live at our house when he was small. He was a neighbor kid who often had to escape his own difficult home situation, usually bringing his two younger brothers with him. Despite the painful stuff going on in his life, he was a kid who was full of fun and high energy: he features in many of the stories my kids tell about the funny things that happened when they were little.
We haven't seen Croaky much since he joined the military.
I usually get news about Croaky from Blonde Niece, who sees his brother at school sometimes, but on Saturday I saw his stepfather, Bitter Man, at the grocery store. Croaky is still in Baghdad. He's been there for over a year now. Originally, he was told he'd be coming home in February, but then that got changed to April, and then to June. It's been more than a year since he's been home, more than a year since he's seen either of his younger brothers, the kids he took such good care of when he was just a kid himself.
When the candle ceremony was over, I walked With-a-Why upstairs. He was half-asleep already. He's almost a teenager now, but he still seems like a little boy to me, especially at night when he wants to be cuddled as he falls asleep. I thought of the young men, and occasionally women, that I see whenever I am at the train station and airport, dressed in camouflage, duffle bags in hand, getting shipped up to the big military base just north of us. Perhaps it's my Mom status, but they are all always so polite and serious as they talk to me. I think of the last time I saw Croaky, dressed smartly in his BDUs, his round freckled face looking just the same. They all still seem like kids to me. Kids who should be home.
Posted by jo(e)