My daughters are growing up. In fits and starts, perhaps. But mostly starts. I find that their recent forward momentum is simultaneously exciting and bittersweet. I haven’t sorted out where I stand in their evolution from child to tween and from tween to teen, but I’m not always as happy about it as I think I should be. Aren’t good parents always supposed rejoice in their children’s self-actualization and maturation? Am I being selfish in wanting to arrest their development for a few years? To stop time in order to collect as many hugs and as much laughter as I can before they no longer want to hug us and laugh with us?
The past couple of days have produced seemingly banal moments when that longing to stop the clock was so tangible I could almost touch it. When my immediate and somewhat irrational internal reaction was “No! You are not going to get older or bigger or prettier or sassier. You’re going to stay the way you are in this instant so I can store in my long-term memory an image of you just as you are right now.”
Sophie hurt her big toe when we came to pick her up from a birthday party yesterday. At first, it didn’t look like much more than a bruise, but a few seconds after it happened, she started to bleed. Pretty profusely, in fact. She turned a shade of gray when she noticed the blood and realized that she had nicked a chunk of her skin, but managed to sit stoically while her friend’s mom, the host of the party, administered first aid. The Band-Aid quickly soaked through, yet Sophie remained cool as cucumber.
Until we made it to her friend’s driveway, when she started to sob. Big gulping sobs. Not so much from the pain, although her toe was certainly throbbing. But from the sight of all the blood. My husband, moved by the sight of Sophie’s copious tears, asked if she wanted to be carried down her friend’s long sloping driveway. She nodded her assent and he struggled to pick her up. Her Papa hadn’t carried her for such a long stretch since our trip to France last summer. She’s grown like a weed since then and her mass came as a surprise as he adjusted himself to take her down the hill.
After we had cleaned and bandaged her up, she limped upstairs to her room to retrieve her tattered burp cloths and her personal trio of talismen: Shirley the lamb, Bone-Bone the dog and Uni the unicorn. “They comfort me,” she told us with a bashful smile as she went into the sunroom to watch a cartoon. By this morning, she was feeling much better. The toe looks like it’s been through hell, but the bleeding finally stopped during the night. Her Papa cleaned her wound again this morning and she said, “Mom, this is a good bandage. It’s like I’m wearing a pillow on my toe!” That’s my Sophie, I thought to myself. My brave and gentle optimist, who always sees rainbows through the clouds.
“Once he started high school, we rarely saw him anymore,” said the mother of one of Chloe’s friends the other day. She was talking about the passage of time and how her eldest son would be starting college in the fall. I glimpsed Chloe sitting on the couch and felt that all-too-familiar tinge of sadness. I knew exactly what she was talking about, even though Chloe doesn’t start high school for another year.
Between the almost weekly sleepovers among Chloe’s friends the past few months, socializing after school with her friends at least 3-4 times every week, upcoming day and overnight trips with her friends this summer, and spending increasing amounts of time behind her closed bedroom door, I can only imagine what it will be like once Chloe enters 9th grade. She’s always been independent. We’ve gone out of our way to encourage that independence. I’m happy that she has a growing number of friends and a handful of very close friends who form her “Inner Circle.” Especially after a couple of socially challenging years in elementary school. And yet, I’m starting to miss her already, given my tendency to project what I think will be the future onto the present (if someone has the secret sauce to living fully in the present, please share).
Chloe and I share a unique and rich relationship. It’s not generally fraught with tension or angst. We still talk a lot and enjoy each other’s company most of the time, and she’s happy to travel with me, go on cultural excursions with me, go to the movies with me and even go to concerts with me. Most important, she still confides in me, for which I am eternally grateful.
However, Chloe is a teenager and every so often, tiny little fissures appear. Like today, when she berated me for talking to a stranger in a store about how poor the customer service was. “It’s really embarrassing when you complain to strangers like that. Like you want to start a rebellion or something,” she admonished, not without a bit of hyperbole. Every time she makes such a comment, I wonder if it’s the beginning of the end. It’s silly, I know – most teens are embarrassed by their parents much more frequently than I embarrass her (at least that’s what I tell myself). Hell, I was no exception with my mom and dad. For now, Chloe and I quickly bounce back from our disagreements (many of which are my fault, I have to admit). But will that always be the case? Who knows. At least I have another five years before Sophie succumbs to the dark lords of Teenageddon.
In the meantime, I must find a way to stop fretting about the future. And fill my mind’s eye with as many pictures as I can of Chloe and Sophie just as they are today, in this moment, in the here and now.