I didn’t realize it was looming.
It was just a ball of twine woven around a cardboard roll. It should have meant nothing. Instead, as I wrapped what seemed like my 200th gift basket for another fundraiser, that roll of twine became the ending to a beginning.
The roll of twine is 12 years old. It’s easy to remember because I bought it when my son started kindergarten and I began volunteering for the school’s Parent Faculty Organization. I used it to bind gift baskets for various craft projects and for his bar mitzvah.
The cardboard roll made its appearance a few weeks before Chanukah this year — the last Chanukah our son, Jack, will be exclusively ours — as I came to the last piece of twine.
My husband and I spent the past 18 years learning to let go a little at a time. I read somewhere that observing your child grow up is akin to slowly watching them run away from you and toward something — to all things possible. This Chanukah is one of the last experiences we have to learn to let go, allowing my son to run toward the next part of his adventure.
Jack was born a few weeks prematurely. His father and I used to have to feed him teaspoons of formula while fighting to keep him awake. He grew quickly, and we learned to give up those early feeding struggles easily.
During Jack’s early years, I worked freelance from home. Jack sat on my lap and would even join my meetings. I still feel the vacant spot on my lap.
Jack eventually moved from my lap to the other side of the room. He sat at his dad’s desk and typed on the keyboard, learning his letters with less and less assistance. That time together ended when he started school and I had to give up my temporary office mate.
It was then that I bought the twine. I spent hours at PFO meetings and sitting behind booths at various functions. With each slice of the scissors, cutting twine for gift baskets or crafts, a bit of time was shaved from our time with our son.
Elementary school basket-wrapping quickly turned into middle school projects, art projects, makeshift posterboard presentations and bar mitzvah favors. Art has always played an essential role in my relationship with my son. Twine was the tie that bound.
We spent close to a year, several times a week, learning to chant the Torah together for his bar mitzvah. Jack picked up the Hebrew a little quicker than I did, but there were spots where my ear for music and melody was needed. When he stood before the congregation and perfectly chanted his portion and the Shabbat prayers, his pace was quicker than I could follow. His final note came too abruptly for me.
By high school, he was spending more time with friends and less time with us. I didn’t realize at the time that we were all learning to separate then, as well.
The twine I used so regularly, that had bound the two of us without either of us knowing, was thrown into a beat-up cabinet I inherited from my mother. The kind of brown, wooden, 1960s Sears cabinet, which was a little too large than it needed to be. The twine sat in that cabinet along with extra tea candles from our wedding, unused modeling clay and a glue gun that Jack and
I had used for various projects. It was a holder of memories that I forgot I had stored away.
I knew the meaning of the cabinet’s contents. Memories are little pieces of ourselves we leave behind as we become the people we are. I’ve watched Jack grow from an infant to a child to a young man. Sometimes I’ve participated in that growth; other times, he pushed me away. But I know I have opportunities left to share in his growth.
This Chanukah, I can’t help but think that in the circle of annual life cycle events, this is the last Chanukah where my son is this adolescent version of himself. We’ll always be mother and child, but that change matters. When the twine is completely unrolled from its cardboard core, both remain, but the relationship is forever different. I would never want to rewind that string; sometimes, though, I wish I had paid more attention or moved a little more slowly when unrolling it from its core.
Jack will soon be 18 — a significant Jewish number. I recognize that this twining melancholy is part of the beauty of life and parenthood, like a slowly unwoven spool, giving pieces of us away. I always knew this time would come. Hopefully though, the unrolled twine built a tapestry of memories bringing joy and growth. Eighteen, a lifetime. Eighteen: L’chaim, to life. PJC
Kim Rullo is communications manager and an associate at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative. She is a conceptual artist and photographer who has curated work in the Pittsburgh Cultural District and has had several art shows throughout the city.