It’s a cold, snowy, icy mess outside, not unlike the night 15 years ago when my father suddenly died of a heart attack. The world had just survived Y2K without any major apocalypse, but our small family wasn’t to be spared. Little did we know that our universe would be irrevocably altered barely six weeks into the new millennium.
Chloe is 14. Chloe is 14. Chloe is 14.
I’ve been repeating that short factual sentence to myself for days now, getting used to the sound of it. It’s strange. Although it’s not a particularly momentous birthday, it feels like a bigger deal than it really is.
I don’t know why I feel this way. On the one hand, I’m happy. Chloe is healthy and content. She has made it through her first full year as a teenager and hasn’t yet turned into a monster. Maybe we’ll survive the years of Teenageddon after all, I muse.
My heart belongs to France. I dream of living there again one day – when Chloe and Sophie are adults and independently making their way in the world, and my husband and I have retired. I wouldn’t require much – a modest apartment in Paris, within walking distance to a park, a decent boulangerie, a vibrant open-air market and a métro stop.
After the events of last week, however, I feel bereft. I wonder if my dream will always remain just that – a dream about a place I’ve continued to idealize because of the magical memories it holds for me. It’s the place where I met my husband as an undergraduate student, where I lived and worked after college, where I married, where the entirety of my husband’s family still lives and where my imagination wanders when my home here in the U.S. just isn’t all that it’s cut out to be.
Sophie’s teachers recently gave us a priceless gift: “Sophie is a wonderful kid and such a hard-working student. Have you had her tested for the special math and language arts electives?” they asked during her recent parent-teacher conference.
Sophie celebrates her ninth birthday tomorrow. To mark the occasion, it would be easy to spew out the usual platitudes about her annual milestone – how I love her, how she enriches our life, how she’s metamorphosing before our very eyes.
Instead, I’ve spent the past couple of days contemplating how refreshing it is that, in Sophie’s world, nine is simply nine. Sophie is still very much a child, you see. In her mannerisms, in her speaking, in her hobbies, in her unpredictable mood swings. Unlike Chloe at nine, Sophie isn’t yet too jaded or too mature for her own good.
We have a small immediate family. Chloe and Sophie don’t have any first cousins in the United States and their only living grandparent is my mom. My brother resides in Texas and my husband’s siblings and their kids live in France. We see my brother twice a year at most and we’re lucky if we see our French family every two or three years. Despite having my mom nearby and remedying some of that familial isolation by maintaining close ties to a couple of aunts and uncles and their children, it feels lonely sometimes.
Once upon a time, I was obsessive about music. So were my friends. We stood in line for hours, often through the night (oh, how times were different), at our local record shop in order to snag concert tickets. We were eclectic in our tastes and as long as the artists met our discerning standards for what constituted “cool,” we managed to find a way to see them perform live. Bruce Springsteen, U2, Rolling Stones, The Cure, Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, Billy Idol, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello, Tracy Chapman, Steve Winwood, The Police, Suzanne Vega, to name but a few. Music defined our teenage years.
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?
I thought it was over. The days of Sophie joining me in my bed while her Papa was traveling. Snoring on his pillows. Kicking me in the middle of the night. Rolling over into my ribs.
My Sophie will be nine years old in a few months and the last few times my husband was away, she didn’t ask to sleep in my bed. And I didn’t invite her. I’m not sure why I didn’t ask her. I didn’t really think to ask her, I suppose. And since she didn’t ask, I assumed she wasn’t interested.
When I went to France in 1989 to study abroad, I never expected to meet my future husband there, let alone meet him the first day I arrived. And yet that’s exactly what happened. For the next five years, we survived many obstacles: one year of trans-Atlantic separation, another 18 months commuting between Paris and Talloires in the French Alps, and perhaps most crucially of all, a couple of years cohabitating in a 200 sq. ft. studio apartment without a TV (much to my grandparents’ horror and dismay). We married in 1994 when we were 25 years old. Today marks the milestone of our 20th wedding anniversary.