With ice cream, you have some warning when you are getting to the last bit. You can emotionally prepare bowl by bowl, and when things are looking close to the end you can go out and get some more—or at the very least, not be startled when you run out. But endings of the “details” of life are so much more insidious and surprising. It’s hard to tell when it will be the last time you do something. I mean, every day for 18 years, I was giving some little boy a bath. I was soaping up someone’s head, telling him to “close his eyes and tilt back,” and then taking a random plastic cup, filling it up and rinsing off the bubbles. Every day, until I was not.
And the really strange thing was that I didn’t notice the change of events right away. It was actually a couple weeks later (or even a month or two if I am to be totally honest) that I was in the middle of making dinner, and while stirring the onions, the random thought floated by: I can’t remember the last time I washed Charlie’s hair. My thoughts then escalated a bit as I realized that here I was doing something every single day without notice, because it was so usual. But then one day, when I wasn’t paying attention, my routine of many years died because my kid started taking showers. Although technically I noticed that he was taking showers, I was not paying attention to the other thing—the fact that I was not giving him a bath.
So, in this example, I did what any normal mother would do. I immediately tracked down Charlie, who was busy doing something else and casually, as if this was the most routine question in the world, asked if he minded if I washed his hair that night. He said “sure,” as I thought to myself, “thank you.” His simple acquiescence meant I was given one more chance, one more chance to pay attention. And I did. I soaped up his childhood head, scrubbed a little longer than needed, made a little design with the soap through the layers of his very thick hair, all while thinking about the thousands of baths I had given him. They combined themselves into this very last one that I would always remember. As I absorbed the warmth and the water, I also absorbed the ending.
© Courtesy Megan Sager
How do you remember to pay attention, daily? To say to yourself, notice this moment. Every day I read some quote on Facebook, in my Book of Days, or in some forwarded email that tells me to live in the moment. So I read the quote and think, yes, I am going to live in the moment. But then, there are all these daily routines that escape me, that numb me. And when they change, like when my oldest went to college, and I only had to make three lunches instead of four, I was busy feeling freedom. Until the freedom actually came, and then I only felt nostalgia.
Heritage Day is coming up at the middle school soon. I know this because I got one of those SignUpGenius reminders to volunteer. I can donate water bottles, utensils, muffins, or I can go in and serve the Heritage Day foods and help with cleanup. Just a couple years ago these reminders filled my email. Annoyingly so. There were lots of times I either had to drop off the water or press “delete” because I had so many other things to do. But this is fifth grade. From experience, I now know that the events going forward will be few and far between. So, as I check off the box to help serve the food, I do so with the knowledge that volunteering at school is quickly evolving into “a thing I used to do.” Suddenly I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to notice an ending with my full attention. It might just save me from a surprise the next time I cook dinner.