My daughter, that sweet wild handful of mine, just turned six years old. She is finishing kindergarten and she is growing UP. Fast.
It’s like a race to the finish, but there is no finish for a parent (ideally). I feel like I’m running behind her, struggling to keep up. I can see her tangled blonde ponytail swinging in front of me; it’s keeping time like a metronome. I can see the sun shining on her still soft skin–not as fresh and new as it once was–and I see the dirty bottoms of her heels, flapping out of her crocs. And oh my god, she’s nearly out of my reach.
That’s the goal, I know. Letting go. To respect them as miniature humans, like fruit growing on a tree, ripening before our eyes.
The other day, my kids were out with their dad at the playground while I waited for workers to clean out the dryer vents in our apartment. I was doing dishes when my husband buzzed and told me our daughter was coming back in to use the bathroom. I slipped on my shoes and went into the hallway to meet her, past the dryer vent guys and the snaky green hose they’re using to suck out all the lint and crap that has been collecting and gunking up the pipes.
She ran to me all smiles, using her goofy baby voice. She went to the bathroom and asked me to wipe her, which I did despite my best efforts not to. Then wanted to know if she could run down the hall by herself. I smiled, trying to be all cool; sure, you’re six now, you’re a big girl, but I’m still your mom and I have to make sure you’re safe.
I saw her almost but not quite roll her eyes (soon, coming SOON) and she said, “But mom, I can do it. I’m old enough.”
I compromised and walked down the first part of the hall with her, told her to be careful not to trip on the green hose, and left her as she was about to turn the corner. “Do you see dad out there?” I asked, and she nodded.
Then, in a flash, she was gone, her still little-but-not-quite-as little legs running off, dotted in rough-and-tumble kid bruises, but showing a glimmer of the future, when they will be smoother, less knobby, lean and strong and gorgeous.
I walked alone back to our empty apartment. I went straight to my phone to text her dad. “She’s on her way. Did you get her?”
And nothing for a few seconds. My heart started to speed up as I imagined all the horrible things that could have possibly happened in the span of seconds when she turned that corner and disappeared from my view. An entire horror movie of things. The silver car she believed to be her dad’s–what if it wasn’t? I started to panic.
“I’m sure you have her, but text me anyway,” I wrote to my husband, and I waited.
Unable to do anything but imagine more terrible things, I remembered a nightmare I had the night before about how I lost my toddler son after turning my head for a SECOND and how I felt so much panic and horror in that dream, and I was a wreck, a total mess, crying and screaming and freaking the fuck out about never seeing him again, about how it was all my fault, about the terrible things that happen to children that should NEVER EVER happen to children, or adults too of course, but children, never ever ever.
When he woke me up from that hellish dream, squirmy and hot and irritable in bed beside me, I was so relieved that it was only a nightmare and he was safe. I rubbed his back and helped him fall back asleep. When he woke me up several times after that, whimpering and sweaty from his own dreams, I didn’t feel annoyed–just grateful.
While waiting for my husband’s text, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t do the dishes or touch the computer or eat my bagel, I just stood there, heart thumping, and I waited.
Then the text came. “I got her.”
And I nearly cried with relief, and laughed a little at my dramatic thoughts. Then I stopped laughing, shook my head, and I thought: why, why, why did I ever think having kids was a good idea?