it is not-quite-spring but the snow is mostly gone, reduced to salt-and-pepper-crusted mounds.

we have no cherry blossoms here to herald the end of winter, only crocuses, the modest, cheery crocuses that pop up even before the mud loses its icy cover.

when the crocuses come it is spring, for me, and i am a child again after school at my grandmother’s house and each year when they first pop through she takes me outside, deliberately, around the edge of the house to where they grow and we smile upon them. or they – bright things in the gray of the long melting season – on us.

one year i saw them first, making my way from school towards the tall yellow house and their purple and yellow-orange buds were there, popping through, and i saw them and ran in and she got her coat and i was proud, for seeing, for noticing.

they are out again. in that same garden bed at the house that is now just across the street and Dave spied them last week, out for a walk in the half-warm of the evening and i felt my face drop thirty years and i beamed and waved and pointed to show my children, Look! Crocuses!

the same damn crocuses. well, not really. but kinda.

last night after supper, we left the house and dug the Radio Flyer scooter and the little pedal-less run bike out from the new shed for the first time. found the helmets. still glove weather here, and matching sets were procured and we set off.

they elected to go downhill first, snaking down a sidewalk and around and over a block, then back three, the long way to the Lebanese grocery that is the neighbourhood corner store in these parts. it too is a relic of my childhood, though its owner is thinner and whiter of hair, now. he knows the names of all the teenagers who come in; accepts that i know his, though mine has long receded for him.

i introduce the children. Posey chooses chocolate milk. Oscar hands over the bill.

we are on the way back when we spy crocuses on another lawn, a few blocks from home. we stop, like pilgrims paying homage.

and then the children right their respective wheels and start off ahead of us, both still stumbling a bit, learning balance, finding their feet.

Two or three years, i said to Dave, apropos of nothing. That’s all there will be of these walks, like this. he nodded. a hockey net loomed in the middle of the street ahead and it did not look so utterly foreign as it would have even a few months back.

when you have small children, their age and size is the measure of the world.

to the parent of a tiny baby, especially the first time ’round, even older babies – those round, crawling, laughing ones – are enormous and strange. the window of parallel kinship is narrow.

i have never been able to see ahead, very well, with my kids…i’m always only barely keeping up with where we are. and so children who are older than mine, even by a couple of years, have for the longest time looked to me like mini-adults. smaller, yes, but impossibly old nonetheless. seven and eight and ten have been unimaginable worlds, for me.

do they need parents, these giant children? they stay up late. they wipe their own bums. they go places independently.

they have seemed another species, their families built on entirely different structures than my own.

’til now.

suddenly Oscar is almost six. i pick him up and stumble to adjust to the weight of him, long limbs, fifty-plus pounds of boy.

even Josephine stretches up up up, the soft baby roundness disappearing. her hand snakes up for mine on the stairs rarely now, but when it does, i grab it and marvel at the delicate bones emerging from what was once the softest, tightest grip.

we are entering a whole new phase.

suddenly those big kids we happen upon? the ones i’ve been unable to see as children?  they begin to shrink like Alice in Wonderland, to look…like kids again. long, gangly ones, less cuddly perhaps, but still so very much…kids. logic and proportion.

this is what happens when your babies are gone.

i thought it would be sad. it is in the sense that i would like to slow things down and stay and stretch the time out in this twilight of what has been.

but there is nothing for it. we grow up, all of us. it is the way of things and the alternative is far more terrifying, yes. but there is more.

in the strange, surreal nostalgia of this return to the neighbourhood in which i was a child, i am confronted daily with the ways in which we do not leave our childhoods but we carry them within us, layers of sediment.

in my daughter, i see the last days of toddlerhood and the bright, fierce emergence of a big girl to be reckoned with, but i see more. my last baby, tiny fuzzy bird-limbs splayed against the skin of my body as she slept.

i look at my son and see the big, big boy who karate chops his way through his days and reads and does not want to hold my hand in the hall at school anymore. and still, in the tilt of his head, the same curious, open spirit we first brought home: our rainbow baby, joy after sorrow.

it would be a terrible disservice to my children to keep seeing them through these lenses as they grow.

and it would be a greater disservice to stop.

the best gift my grandmother gave me, i think, in all the years in which she was my extra parent and my caregiver, was that she continued to see in me the child i’d been.

oh, i grew older and too cool and there was that time i slouched in the front seat of her little Datsun as we drove to junior high because i did not want the ruling clique to see me with my – ack – grandmother, as if having one were some sort of mortifying embarrassment…and i was by turns surly and frustrated and enamoured by all that i wanted to rush to embrace. she saw that. she honoured some of it, critiqued my mother for some, i know. but she did not mistake that prickly, uncertain becoming-adult for the whole of who i was.

the spring i was thirteen i had big pink glasses and a Frankie Says Relax tshirt and my jean jacket collar and my shoulders were all turned up against the world most of the time. we lived there with her, that year, and it was a hard year and my mother did not know what to do with me and i did not know what to do with anything and my grandmother was nearly eighty-one and unused to having two extra people in the house.

but when the crocuses came out she met me at the door, as ever, and her eyes were bright and they did not say you told your mother to fuck off this morning before school.

they said, simply, it’s you. it’s spring. come see the crocuses with me.

and so we did.

it is April. twelve springs this year since i’ve seen myself reflected in her eyes, and mostly – even living here – she seems like memory. time does that. my children grow and i wax wistful and i know these early days will soon feel gone and historical and…simply done.

yet there they are, the crocuses, those same damn crocuses, kinda. and they remind me that my babies remain in the long limbs of the children in front of me, as the child who once welcomed spring flowers remains in me. and i suppose my grandmother does too.

and so we wave at the flowers, and some part of me is waving to the grownups in these tiny bodies still beside me, holding my hand.