The problem with wanting to write, with following the thirsty urge that creeps up on my like goutweed in the wee moments of silence, is that I have to place to put it. I don’t mean the physical space, but the active memory castle, the quiet corner, the enablement of the act itself. The urge comes in a wave then passes, whispering. I ache for a moment then carry on with the laundry, petting a cat, placating a husband, yelling at children, pulling old lunches from dirty bags. It taunts me if I’m frank, with rememberances, time past when words flowed easily and the hours passed on my scheduale. The urge is a concious reminder of time as it hurdles past me as I sit baffled and oftimes lost in the wake.

My daughters grow older and I am ever so aware of their detatchment. As infants, toddlers, small children, they seemed just another piece of me, for good or ill, a segment I would some day shed like a worm. Now as they become women, I realize we were more like new risen bread, soft and sweet, made better for the wolume. They are the lodestone to the urge, this desire I harbour to somehow articulate the passage of time and it’s trickster nature. Perhaps Loki was never a person at all but rather, memory and air, silent on it’s way.They make me feel old as they cause me to remember where I have been, and how short the road has been since.

Tonight my eldest and I walked, a lazy walk in the gold spring evening. She mentioned August her birthday month was boring, and tired. Too hot. Too bored. Too bleh.

I smiled and told her that August is secretly my favorite month-not because it’s when she was born, Because my mind sees the dusty orange evenings on my bike, the warm breeze in my face, through my hair. The smell of the ballfield where pick up games would be held. The silence of the afternoons when everything seems to come to a sluggish stop and rest its head for a moment or five, the heat overwhelming desire. The sound the power lines made when the heat took over, zapping through the air. August was always a month of quiet before the world started up again.

Those memories, those slips in time, passing along to her moments she would never see with my eyes…they drive the urge I cannot quench.

How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?

I can’t help but see time everywhere lately, the lack of it, the amorphous state it occupies, how it is in flux like so much water in a bottle, pulled here and there. Solid but not. Invisible yet, tangible. I can’t help but feel time now in a way I couldn’t as a child, as a young mother. I’m approaching 40, just starting to see it, and with it comes the novelty of the fact that my thirties are almost done, and the reality that death may not be far.

Partly this is because my mother was 43 when she died, and I now know, I mean really know, how young that was. But I’m old enough at 37 to realize I’m likely halfway through the life I’m going to have. Which if I’m honest, is a long time. I think back even to my youngest daughter being born and it’s like yesterday and forever ago. So I know it’s not like I’m going to turn around and be 85 and dying.

So why does it feel that way? I remember believing, truly believing I wouldn’t live to see my 30th birthday. Had I stayed on that path, I likely wouldn’t have. I had no hope for the future, no dreams, no desires. I just was. Yet now, I want to live, I want to see, I want to know more. Is it a lizard brain response, to what to live, to want to experience? Do I just want to never feel the pain and terror death is likely to bring?

I don’t fear death. In some ways I’m curious to see what happens. But the trouble with being an atheist is that an ever after of nothing isn’t very compelling.

I can’t help but turn the idea, the essence of time, over and over in my head like a marble. How funny it is, as wel slip from living in the now of our childhoods to the increasing amount of time we spend living in yesterday and someday as we age. When do we lose the ability to stay present? Why should we?

Those around me age. My father grows older, my father in law every day is closer to losing the battle he’s fought with cancer for years. I can see myself in these battles, see my children in 30 years time, putting up with me gently, and maybe not so gently. Remembering when I loomed large and tall, filled with hope for a future they couldn’t yet believe in. A vast ribbon of continued memory, stretching behind and beyond us.

Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.

She stresses so much. What’s stress for an eleven year old? What’s normal? What’s eleven really to look like, aside from pot bellies and jangly legs that have trouble finding their places?

I find myself having conversations more often now with her, not just parent child but almost like person to person. It occurred to me today, joking with her on the phone, that I like her. I really do like her as a person, that I’m proud of the woman she’s becoming. I try and tell her when I can but what do we hear at that age? The compliments, the validation rolls off like water on a duck but the quick short words, spoken in that just home from work and I have 15 things to do frustration-those stick, like putty on a window. It’s a constant struggle to curb my tongue in those times, to remind her, and her sister, that I’m tired, I’m a little worn or jesus H FUCK I just need 10 minutes of no one asking for something or requiring my brain to work.

I need that time, that quiet space, even if it’s just in my head.

She’s like me that way. Ponderous, increasingly introverted and thoughtful. I suppose this should be viewed as a “warning sign” but honestly it’s a progression. She loved people as a baby, as a toddler. Before people showed themselves for the tremendous shits they can be. So she started to guard herself, be more wary. Take deliberate chances. She prefers her own bed to sleepovers. I tell her I agree. Nothing is better than ones own bed.

So her stress over her father, over the decision to spend the summer with him this year, is hard to stay out of. Yes, I could force her to go and maybe in the long run I will. Her sister wants so desperately to go and I can’t stomach the thought of depriving her or their father of them. It’s not fair to him. It feels wrong to force her on an issue so clearly linked to her wellbeing. Her inability to fight off a tummy bug and the sudden appearance of a head cold makes me wonder if she isn’t stressing about it more than she lets on. It’s a lot of pressure, choosing a parent this way. I frankly hoped it would never happen.

He’s put himself in this position, I can try and remedy it, but I can’t fix what he’s already set up to fall. It makes me sad, but there’s not much I can do.

But she’s not the smiling, love to all baby she was. She’s not the bubbly friendly toddler. She’s a moody pre teen with very firm opinions of what’s right or wrong. She’s a charming and confused young woman, deciding who belongs in her life. She’s deciding who’s worth the stress, and who isn’t.

I want a summer at home she tells me.

This is home. That’s what matters. I cannot force her away from home.

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”

Everything is a memory.

There’s a note that a woman hits when she sings O Holy Night that brings me to tears, instantly and quickly, no matter where I am. It’s muscle memory, worn into my skin and bones, of a night sometime, long ago, and love. Triggered into my fingers and echoed in my lips while I mouth the words and feel the shudder of tears against my face.

The light reflected in puddles, yellow sodium burn in muddy snow.

The way my daughter’s head fits neatly under my chin as we stand, arms wrapped around me as she bears down on her own private grief.

___

I was 11 that last Christmas, that year of so many gifts, the year we knew would be the last. I remember being overwhelmed and slightly perplexed. My mother’s relatives were all there, people we never spent time with, strangers to me really. But they rallied around us and we, dealt with it. I didn’t like it. It felt wrong, it was wrong. Our little collective, our family of four. It was…altered that last Christmas and on some level, I resented it.

Not enough to not be completely enamored of the pink jewelry box my Aunt Gert got me, or the set of barbies my father snuck past my mother. The rules were bent, then broken.

When you’re a child you think this is a good thing. Until you grow up, and realize those rules were the only things keeping you safely a child.

Vivian is 11 now, all sprouts and glory, and I suddenly, vividly and unaccountably feel my mother within me. I breathe and she heaves along. I sing and her voice carries past my lips on the last note. I cry and she is there whispering about mockingbirds and starlight. I draw myself up to full height when someone has “done wrong” and I feel her, ramrod inside me, as full of ire and annoyance as I. I see with her eyes, my mother’s eyes and I know.

I always knew leaving must have been hard. Even on the bad days, I couldn’t truly imagine never seeing my daughters again. But to sit talking to my oldest girl, my precocious, over thinking daughter, the one who is so very like me and yet not like me, I feel gutted by how much it must have hurt to know, without any shadows, to know she was leaving. I was just a kid, aware, yet not aware. She was a grown woman, a mother, a lover. She knew. She knew what that leave taking meant. What wounded her destroyed me.

I really thought I was ok with all of it. Yet something will happen and I fill with tears. I feel like I’m walking on glass with myself, waiting for shoes to drop. I dream of my lover dying and in my dream I’m screaming “but I only just found you!!!” and I imagine my father screaming the same to my mother, whispering perhaps, the words mangled and thick on the tongue. We only just found each other, our family of foundlings, and then just as quickly, we were cast apart, forever chained a distance from each other. I really believed I was ok with it, until this year, this month, when I realized that no, I wasn’t.

She is eleven. She is where I was that year, delicate and brutal, fair yet unfair. Unfazed yet terrified. I buy her bras thinking of my mother. Every step we take now is one I never took. I sing a song about her period, I ask her about boys. I remind her to wash her forehead or pin back her hair.

I mourn my mother each time I walk without her. Yet she is there, silently urging me on. Telling me to choose the purple, not the blue. Reminding me we come to womanhood on our own terms, not our mothers.

Telling me she loves me, undoubtedly, as she loves my daughters too.

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”

I pour a hot bath, begrudgingly share some of my hoarded peppermint bubble bath. She’s sick, and she’s tired and she’s just not quite acting like a 9 year old should so I suggest a warm bath and some reading and then bed.

I open the cupboard door to grab something and see bath toys.

Hey! Do you want them?

She pauses to stare, then shakes her head gently.

No. she says. I’ll just read.

One door opens, and another closes.

Everyone says the same thing. Time goes too fast. Appreciate it. Take a second to really take it all in.

But when one kid is up puking and the other is nattering in your ear about lego and pokemon and dinosaurs, who has the time? The minutiae of a child’s life builds up like so much sand against you, you can’t help but be buried in it. Subsumed by it. You spend years being “So and So’s Mother” to the point that you wonder if you’ll ever take a free breath again.

And then, just as suddenly as it began, it’s gone. That golden window shuts.

I noticed it first when I started thinking about Christmas and realized my daughters don’t really want any toys. Most years, it was a matter of what I would pick, how many I would allow. This year I find our list cluttered with electronics, things for new rooms, books. Nary a toy to be seen.

I can’t even put my finger on when it started, or stopped. Just a slow float away into the murmur of memory. I knew it was coming, but for the life of me I expected one more year, one more truly childlike Christmas. No squeals for Santa, but perhaps that slight catch of breath waiting to see if that package is a doll or a stuffie.

I can hardly even bring myself to be Christmasy thus far. it feels like being punched, this sudden shift. I have to revise how they live in my mind and heart. They aren’t children, yet not adults. They grow so fast. And I’m left watching, stunned, wondering when the magic disappeared.

I know when it did. It slowly left, air in an old hose, as we all grew up. As they take on chores without being asked, as they choose bras and talk about holding hands, as I ask them to turn the oven on and sweep the bathroom. Each moment stepping towards the women they’ll be is one away from the child I birthed.

I was warned, I really was. But you can’t know, not really. Not until your heart breaks slowly as they shrug silently, putting away the toys they once loved.

Our childhoods loom so large in our minds, are such a enormous piece of our personal narratives and myths, that perhaps half of the surprise when it ends on our children is that it really is so very short in time. My memories of being a child are long lazy creatures, spread across what seemed like forever. And when I was 5, it was forever. What’s a month when you only remember 2 years? It’s an eternity. We grow older and time stretches and pulls like taffy and we gasp at the wonder of it, how it’s so different remembered, how the time has changed.

This is how we lose it. We, so caught up in the day to day of being a parent, we skip past those moments when I child is entranced. We hurry them towards the door, grow up! Be smarter! You know better!

Then we mourn the children we have silently left behind, almost accidentally.

There are compensations. My eldest daughter came back from her first away trip with her school, speaking about social justice, courage, how to change the world. Her adulthood is forming, and it fills me with pride. Her sister looked at her chest, asking for a bra, thrilled and terrified by the womanhood approaching.

As it should be, they grow. As does my pride and awe.

That doesn’t stop me from walking by the toys, browsing past online, and missing what I never really had in my hand to begin with.

We us.

She gets sick and she can’t eat then she spends the week poking at her food, moving it around the plate i’m not hungry i’m just not hungry she tells me.

I don’t buy that.

I hold my tongue through the week, through a week where I feel like I’m a failure where ever I land-work is rotten and hard, home is a mess and chaos, newly confused with my father staying the winter with us. My kids seem unmoored and saddened all week long, tethered to nothing but my guilt and anger.

I lose what tentative hold I have on a good mood by Friday, and spend the evening near tears, driving to tears when a kid calls me crying when are you coming home? when we go to grab some groceries and spend a minute or three by ourselves.

I get home and ask, no, demand my daughters to me. We collapse into the spare bed, each of us snivelling our different reasons.

I’m sorry I’m a bad Mom sometimes I say this shit is hard and I don’t know what I’m doing. No one parented me at your age and I get lost, confused and tired.

They tell me I’m not a bad Mom. They tell me why their week was crappy too. Devon got mad because I made a bad pass in basketball. Chrissie called me fat. I felt like you yelled at me when something went wrong.

I knew something had happened, something I couldn’t interpret until she told me. I knew she worried at her 11 year old belly, the one that pops before you sprout up. The one that’s only made worse by shirts that don’t fit while she grows faster than I can keep up with.

I slapped my friend when she said that she says.

Good. I know it’s likely not the right response, but I don’t care. Bitches, I tell her. Some people are bitches, and we don’t want them in our lives. Bitches fill our heads with voices we don’t own.

She sighs. She’s nice most of the time.

Wouldn’t you rather someone who’s nice ALL the time?

We settle into each other, and spoon for a few minutes, quiet.

I hate weeks like these but at the same time, I love them for those moments. The minutes where it’s just us against the world, the three of us, entwined, bodies who remember. I am they and they are we.

“In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.”

For no apparent reason that I can find, I am suddenly gripped with this idea of “my children need fancy clothing”. It started innocently enough with Rosalyn asking, nicely and quietly and disturbingly politely, for a sparkly party dress for the Christmas concert at school. Completely understandable as most years I haven’t been able to afford much in the way of nice, but could at least magic something from the local Frenchy’s. Now, living in a thrift desert, it’s a little more difficult. But Ros and I have been having fun looking at all the pretty dresses online, I have fallen in the JCrew rabbit hole (I know I KNOW 500.00 is a lot for a coat but man…so cute.) She’s fallen in love with this blowy sky blue goddess dress which I love, so even though I’ll let her look on the Justice site, I think we’re good.

dress

Vivian, being a little more on the unisex spectrum, is slightly more difficult. It’s REALLY hard to find simple dressing clothes for girls that are NOT dresses. I tried to spin the “hey, long dress & cute boots=awesome!” trick. No dice. In fact, I received a fervent eye roll for that suggestion. I think she’d rather enjoy a long dress with a sweater, some clunky boots, but as I am familiar with how I was when presented with an outfit sans crotch, I’m not going to push. She’ll either wear skirts someday, or she won’t. No civilization will fall, and it’s not a reflection on me as a mother. Even if I think she’d look ADORABLE and quite snazzy in something like this;

dress2

A smart friend reminded me about H&M, and they have a cute pair of sequined shorts and some reasonably dressy options for pants, and the “boys” section has an adorable tux shirt and a vest I think she could totally rock. So all is not necessarily lost on the fancy clothes front.

But I wondered why the sudden NEED to do this. I mean, most years there is some level of guilt that my kids are all flounce and tulle at the Christmas concert and I have a pang until they shrug and say “it’s fine, don’t care.” Rosalyn, the daughter who actually likes dressing up, has made it more and more clear that she would like something nice, but that isn’t it either. Struggling to articulate it finally it hit me.

Vivian is eleven. I was eleven when Mom died, and the frantic rush to buy me “funeral appropriate” clothing happened, and was soul crushingly awful for everyone involved. I fought the dress, and fought it until my father seemed to deflate and just said “please, just wear it.”

On some level am I preparing myself, and them for loss?

It seems like a natural and harmless enough action-it’s not hurting anyone, and frankly they need something a little more formal in their closets. With a stepfather who is a mason, we occasionally should attend certain events as a family but I’m not comfortable attending funerals in casual clothing, no matter how many other people are. And it is time to really press the idea that certain events and places necessitate particular pieces of clothing out of respect. But I think my drive to do this, at a time when frankly, 200.00 could be spent in much better ways, is rooted in the simple fact that I don’t want to chance that their stepfather might have to have the same conversation my father once did.

It’s not rational. I’m not dying, I’m not sick, and I don’t expect to suddenly keel over in the spring. But there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the need to preempt the past, to somehow prepare for the worst so I can minimize the impact if it happens. It’s hard to look at my oldest and imagine “that’s who I was when my mother died” and NOT silently panic. My mother knew I wasn’t ready, not by a long shot. Neither is my Vivian.

So in a sense, being insistent on party clothes, being obstinate to finish their bedrooms so they have “real” rooms-I think it’s driven by the year of my eldest daughter, and my memories of the same. She is so like I was then and at times, it frightens me to feel my mother within me, responding to me it seems, across the years.