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What the mullien says, and doesn’t say

Keepin’ muh eye on the mullien, amigo, gauging what the weeds say will be our winter snow depth. Some say the mullien’s long stalk is an indication of how much snow we’ll get during the upcoming winter.

After my brood leaves in late May to spend the summer with their mother, it takes me awhile to adjust. Although I stash the dad hat for the next 14 weeks or so, it still feels like its sitting on my head. I continue to arrange my schedule as though there are mouths to feed and games to attend. My shoulders remain hunched in anticipation of “Daddy, I need ...,” or “Let me show you this, daddy ...,” or “Daddy, can I ...?”

I read that people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suffer because their brains and bodies are in a chronic state of arousal, the part of the brain responsible for regulating the stress-response system having been so overloaded that the gate holding back the flood of hormones has been washed away.

I’m not saying my kids have given me PTSD but every year my June finds me still in a heightened state, prepared to scream, “Shut the door!” at any given moment.

Eventually, though, the chill pills get washed down with a healthy dose of bourbon as July ushers in weeks of indolence and over indulgence for me. Weeds in the garden don’t demand the same kind of urgency as the diorama needing to be turned in the next day; the only bedtime enforced is the one determined by my desire to not sleep through a meeting.

However, Loml and I didn’t give ourselves much time to simply relax and take advantage of the kidless hours. There was landscaping to be done. We painted the living room, kitchen, hallways, master bedroom and attached ceilings (a literal pain in the neck, that last one). We moved all of Loml’s stuff up from Phoenix and eventually made it fit (with the help of a storage unit).

We attended the opera in Santa Fe; we drank wine on the porch while watching lightning on the horizon; we danced late into the night; we read each other’s books and told each other stories; we took advantage of a house that contained only us, cognizant that the silence we sometimes shared would be brief, that other voices would soon fill the then-empty rooms.

By mid-August, I’d noticed that the mullien had not reached prodigious heights, giving me pause to wonder about our imminent winter. With the brood still a few days away from returning to Pagosa (to prepare for the first day of school the following week), the mullien made me think not so much about how much snow we would be seeing but how my winter would be different than the last one.

This year officially ends the “houseful of children” part of my life as Eldest Child enters adolescence today. In fact, I’ve already noticed the shift. A bedroom door that was often open is now usually closed as she dwells in the secret life of a teenager. My instructions for her to turn off the computer and crack a book is met with eye-rolling disgust and tongue clucking so characteristic of 13-year-old girls.

Yet, as she tiptoes towards adulthood, she continues to betray the vestigial remnants of childhood. There is still an expectation of me tucking her in and kissing her goodnight. When I suggested that, for her 13th birthday, we drive her and a few friends to Durango to see the newly-released 3D version of “The Lion King” (she still sleeps with her stuffed baby Simba), her face lit up and she gave a little jump, the same way she has since she was first able to walk.

Meanwhile, Middle Child has grown out of elementary school. Although she is still “Pixie” and will crawl up on my lap like an affectionate cat, she is now one of the “big kids” (as she frequently reminds her little brother).

And yes, she squealed with delight at a stack of Blue’s Clues party napkins I’d dug up (and neglected to toss), she chastised me for implying that there was a “Potty Mouth” American Girl doll (“The imp swears like a sailor!”) and has asked for a Barbi “Dream House” for Christmas, but there is something about the transition to middle school that seems to strip away some of the little girl she was last winter.

One more winter of a single-digit child; the mullien might just rise above the depth of the snow this year but, next year, I’ll not be thinking about what it tells me about that winter, but what I remember of the previous ones.

Only Mister seems unchanged (albeit a little bit bigger), still my Little Buddha, his light a reflection of the inner happiness in which he dwells, his smile the vessel of that light. While making his bed last night, he insisted on the Star Wars comforter; before nodding off after the light went out, he insisted on packing away the new Legos that he’d received for his ninth birthday.

The last vestige of what my children were — placing Cheerios between couch cushions, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into the slot of the VCR, the arguments over who gets to be the Easter Bunny and who is the Big Bad Wolf — remains with Mister, for now. As the summer slowly puts on its autumn jacket and the aspens display their cache of bright yellow coins, the change of season tells me more about what this winter will be like, way more than the mullien ever could.

The obvious difference between this winter and the last one is the presence of Loml in our lives and the maternal energy she brings into our home. Try as I have to be both daddy and mom to my brood, I confess that my Y chromosome prevents me from mastering some behaviors that I think my children needed, wanted. Yes, Loml complements me in so many more ways than I could have ever asked for but, more importantly, she provides my brood with an extra dose of love that, I see, will make this year infinitely more tolerable.

It was something the mullien did not say this summer. That’s fine with me. Everything else is in place and I don’t need myth to make sense of those things that confuse me (of which there are plenty).

It’s not what the mullien is supposed to tell me that holds my imagination now: It’s that I am satisfied I will see it on the side of the road next summer, telling me that yet another winter will, inevitably, make its way through Pagosa.

I keep my eye on the mullien just to hold onto that thought.

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