This post is the eighth in the series "This Is Childhood," which captures moments in our children's lives, from age 1 to 10.
Eight. More than eight years with you.
These years are motion and fire. They are amorphous and finite at once, molten lava coursing through time, inexplicably and unapologetically racing and slowing to form the many facets of a spirit.
You are 8 and I have been infatuated and tormented by you since that first blush of pink on the plastic stick. It was in the tiny bathroom at work that I first saw it. Surrounded by cinderblock and overflowing brown, crumpled paper towels, I realized that you were inside of me, and my life changed.
It isn't fair for me to weigh you down with the declaration that it was only after I learned about you that I truly loved myself, but it's close to the truth. Having a baby feels like something that you do yourself, a personal best. My pregnancy with you, our pregnancy, yours and mine, suddenly made so much in life make sense; my body was strong, not big, my intensity was purposeful, not irrational. You grew inside of me along with my confidence and together we started two new lives.
I called you my Briar.
Now, as we barrel toward your ninth birthday, you are increasingly your own Briar. Relentlessly goofballish with a heart that can splinter from something as innocuous as a soft breeze ruffling a paper, a brilliant can-do attitude accented by unpredictable and crippling doubt, you are a riddle.
This year has been startling; we no longer anticipate milestones so much as we react to new phases. You back yourself into your closet and dress alone, then each morning, as you leave your room, you close the door securely behind you. You haven't taken down the princess stickers or the old drawings, but you've obscured them slightly with Taylor Swift album art, school spirit bumper stickers and warnings not to enter without permission. You sleep with your tattered pink blanket while Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" or Jason Mraz' "Sleeping to Dream" or some equally heart-wrenching song plays. The way you will lose yourself in lyrics and put your heart at risk again and again by offering it so plainly on your sleeve, unprotected and irresistible, haunts and inspires me. I rarely let my lips touch your face as I lean in to kiss you because you often wake, not always gently. I am an intrusion.
I always knock.
The other night, I was out for work and, as always happens, I steered the conversation to you girls. This impossibly long table of executives all softened and began talking about their kids, who ran the gamut from infant to older than I am. The man sitting next to me talked about meeting his son's first girlfriend. He was blushing and shrugged his shoulders as he described how as a dad, he didn't know how to act or what to say. My breath caught as I realized that we are closer to you being that girlfriend than we are to you being our first baby.
See, we parents don't have it all together. As you careen from child to young woman and as you visibly fight your instinct to shut me out with your urge to cuddle in my arms, I am struggling, too. I am learning how to walk far enough behind you so that you feel free, but close enough that you know that I am there. Ready to wrap my arms around you or swing them at anyone who tries to hurt you.
Three years ago, we sat together on our couch in the house we rented for the second half of your kindergarten year. You were practicing reading and you were stumbling over the syllables. A part of me wanted to scoop them up, to put the words easily in your mouth, erase the struggle. I remember not doing it, not taking over, but instead sitting and allowing you the time and space to form those perfect words -- first one sentence, and then another. It was amazing and wonderful to hear the words tumble out of your mouth as your face lit up with each one.
Every day now, I see you do new things, whether it's the way that you defiantly make your hair hang over your eyes, cocking your head to make it even more so, or setting aside your game on the iPad to walk over and help Fin make a bed for her babies. You regale me with stories from school, and nestled within your stories are clues. I discover who brightens a room for you, who weighs on your spirit. More and more I call upon myself to have the restraint to allow you to manage these things on your own. I would be lying if I didn't say that I sometimes ache for the days of clutching you to my chest, of locking eyes with you for hours on end.
It all seemed so much simpler when you were a baby, but the thing that I am learning and hope that you are too is this -- it isn't the things that are simple or easy that we cherish. I don't love you more on days when nothing goes wrong and you do everything that I ask. I don't love you less on days that we both end up crying and I make a dinner that nobody likes. Racing on Thursday mornings to get to math club and trying on Monday afternoons to keep our shoes dry before Zumbatomics is stressful and we always make it by the skin of our teeth. It's worth it. You are exploding with knowledge, gaining confidence in math and mastering the moves in the dance studio. I am grateful to have this time, but I am every bit as excited to begin to hear more about your days through your words.
Listening to you, whether you are singing or talking, is a thing I never imagined having when you were a baby and I love it, and you, beyond measure.
Brava, Briar. Brava!