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.

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“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.