Though the Rim fire burns hundreds of miles away, a thick, purple cloud of smoke lay like a blanket over Lake Tahoe as we drove over Donner Pass on Friday evening, the final weekend adventure before back-to-school.  On Saturday morning, we woke at dawn to air thick with the soot and the smell of it, the lake barely visible, the sun bleeding red in the sky.

Eventually, as the sun rose and the winds began to move things around, it was clear enough for a walk, and my sister and I ventured out with the girls in their various transports: Babygirl in her jogging stroller and my niece snuggled in the Ergo for a midmorning nap.  The light, dim and filtered through the gray, and the scent of burning wood everywhere, coupled with the pleasant quiet that defines the “in-between” seasons in a tourist town, gave a distinct air of fall just around the corner.

Which, of course, it is.

Labor Day, in our house, is about birthdays.  I labored on Labor Day some five years ago, LittleMan making his rather arduous appearance after 18 hours of unmedicated contractions.  By sheer coincidence, my second child would share his due date, though like her brother she decided to wait it out a bit; unlike her brother, her arrival was fast and over, almost more painful in its unrelenting sense of imminence, yet no more or less extraordinary.  Life.  Beginning.

Tomorrow, she will be two.  On Sunday, LittleMan will be five.  In their annual “Tahoe Chair” portraits they are tanned and sunscreen-shiny, hair bleached out and straw-like after weeks of swimming.  LittleMan is in motion, that kinetic boy energy propelling him out of his chair before the shutter can close; Babygirl, in contrast, poses with her big smile, her long lashes.  Trouble she will be, I fear.

They slay me, these two.  They own me.  They emerged from me, and in those moments they changed everything, from the way I sleep (in fragments, listening) to the way I eat (standing, at the counter, between lunchboxes) to the way I think about life, and death, and work, and marriage, and femininity, and beauty, and risk, and identity.

They were born, and in so many ways, I was too: Daughter.  Sister.  Adult.  Wife.


What is life, if not a series of becomings?

And so I indulge in my annual contemplation of Who Will They Become, and How?  How will they succeed?  How will they struggle?  How can I help?  How might I hinder?  Have I been their best mother this year?

Can I be better?

I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.

Happy Birthday, my babies.

(And if I may: A very merry un-birthday, to me.)

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