There’s this funny story my athlete friends get a kick out of. When we lived in Chicago, we had a basketball hoop in the driveway. Any time I’d lace up to shoot hoops, I’d get a sense that I was being watched. Not in a creepy call-for-help way, but in a way that was more of a possibility than a fear. I used to imagine that cars passing by our street may have someone in there who’d see my moves and instantly say, hey there, what you’re doing looks great. You’ve obviously got talent that even you haven’t noticed. The funny part isn’t that this young person wanted to be recognized for something she hadn’t identified; the general sentiment of wondering if someone sees something different in you than you see in yourself, that it’s infinitely cooler than you’d imagined, has got to be in the hearts of most suburban emotional adolescents. Otherwise, why would we yearn as we do?
My daughter sometimes watches me when I sing in the car, especially when she sees me really get into it, when I move my head with the slopes of the song. We had just left the last stop before getting home from work, which for the time being is as much their digital classroom as it is mine. The trunk lined with Trader Joe’s paper bags, the kids snacking on chocolate chip dunkers while arguing over music. I decided to play one of my writing playlists to tune out the early evening moment parents know, when the rising action of kids’ noise is colliding with the apex of your patience for the day, and you know deep down that you must get home—hopefully safely—to a quiet room for even just 15 minutes. Close to home, I caught Layla looking at me like she saw something in me the way I felt something in the song, looking at me with a recognition that for whatever its ingredients made me feel like I was that kid in gym shoes, only this time, a girl sitting in the passenger seat of my Honda said with one look, hey there, I think you’re cool. I like who you are.
Why is it that with every breathtaking feeling kids give us, we feel warmth and loss simultaneously? Is it that we know kids are impermanent? That their eyes on us could one day shift to inspection as they, too, stand in basketball shoes on the cracked driveway of their childhood home, as they feel the whoosh of yearning to be seen as more than what they recognize in themselves? The inevitability of this is what brings me here tonight, the last weeknight of the first week of the new school year.
This month feels like a book with words on one page followed by a set of intermittent blank pages, familiar and odd, over and over. Notes about this strange time have been written already by beautiful writers I follow. Instead, I just want to put a bookmark on something else this Thursday night when my girl gave me something casually and innocently, something I guess I have always wanted, as though she is the eyes that I searched for long before it was possible. She wasn’t born yet, and yet the feeling matches up as true in reverse as it is forward, so much so that the memory of my standing in the driveway looks different now.
It’s almost time to go inside. I have the ball at my hip, and I look up to the other side where there’s nothing to look at except for blue sky over a line of houses. Patience cradles my chest because even though I won’t know that it will be my child who offers me the purist sense of belonging, I’ll grow to understand it.