“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.

“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.