I have never been particularly maternal, I never babysat, and I never daydreamed of the day I would have my own children. I was as surprised as anyone, then, when I realized that motherhood was the love affair of my life, the subject that found me, the role that made everything else in my life make (at least some) sense. After Grace and I made it through months of colic (hers but also, I'm pretty sure, mine) and a dark year, we entered a period that I think of now as what Laura Ingalls Wilder called the happy golden years.
But lately, I am in a new season of motherhood. It's not less golden, but it is less simply happy. More complicated. At first there were isolated events, rolled eyes and crossed arms, flares of aggravation I did not understand. These moments, each on their own as small as a speck of light in a wide night sky, came together into a constellation that was eventually impossible to ignore. Something is changing. Something is different.
For a long time I worried that my days with Grace at home would never end. I waded through her dark and sleepless first months for what felt like an eternity. Then, truthfully, I rejoiced that that time had ended. We dove into the happy hours of early childhood, celebrating all the things we could do together -- swimming, tennis, reading, adventures. Grace (and her brother) was my favorite companion and I was hers. And now, suddenly, the end of something is undeniably in sight. It reminds me of our annual summer trip to the White Mountains: we hike for what seems like forever in the trees and are always startled when, all at once, the summit comes into view.
Grace's years at home with me are well over halfway done. The time of me being her favorite person, of my company always being her first choice, is surely almost completely over. I am so keenly aware of how numbered these days are that I can barely think of anything else. It is not an exaggeration to say that my every experience is filtered through the prism of time's passage.
I have said goodbye to sippy cups and diapers and sleep schedules and baby food and cribs and high chairs and even, mostly, to car seats. I have welcomed yoga pants that I sometimes mistake for my own when I'm folding laundry, a riot of peace-sign-patterned sheets and towels, a closed bedroom door and handwritten postcards home from sleepaway camp.
I don't worry about SIDS anymore, or about whether I'm producing enough milk, or about putting a baby to bed slightly awake so she doesn't get used to falling asleep in my arms. Instead I worry about Facebook, and friends who have cell phones, and when it's OK to get her ears pierced, and the insidious approach of eating disorders and body image issues.
The predominant emotion of this time, as Grace embarks upon the vital transition from child to young adult and to an autonomous and independent sense of self, is wonder. Wonder upon wonder, so many layers I have lost count: there is awe, fear and astonishment, and also an endless list of questions. I gaze at my daughter, coltishly tall, lean, all angles and long planes, and wonder where the last 10 years went. It is not hard to close my eyes and imagine that she is still the rotund baby or chubby toddler that she was just moments ago. At the same time I can see the young woman she is rapidly becoming in her mahogany eyes. And there are so many things I wonder about: separation, mood swings, puberty, boys, technology, school pressures, body image and more.
I'm reminded now and then of the fears and concerns that flummoxed me when Grace was an infant. The world shifted more then, when I brought home a crying newborn, but this transition feels second only to that. Then as now, I'm guided by only two things: love and instinct.
Overnight we've gone from a world where a never-ending ribbon of days unfurled in front of us, so many they overwhelmed me, to one where every moment feels finite, numbered, and, as a result, almost unbearably precious. It feels like as soon as I figured out how to truly love being a mother with children at home, it's almost over. More and more, I feel the tension between holding on and letting go. I want to help Grace find her footing in the uncertain terrain of adolescence, but I never expected it to be so bittersweet.
And all I know to do as we move into this new season is to pay attention, to look and listen and write it down. Everything I write, and everything I live, is an elegy to what was and a love letter to what is.