Watching Her Grow Up
ⓒ christina starr
Xtra! September 6, 2001
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I have a vivid memory of holding my daughter when she was almost two – she seemed so big then – rocking her to sleep and then holding her longer as her breathing deepened and her little neck gave way to release the full weight of her downy head against my arm. Holding her longer because I knew the days and bedtimes of holding her like this were numbered.
          In another memory she’s four, grinning and running to me across a sunny summer park, as fast as foolish four-year-old legs can carry her. I shout and laugh, waiting on my knees with my arms open, knowing this very moment is one we won’t repeat.
          These were times when I was fully and always a mother, when to be with her was to give attention, tend, put up with her. You never forget you are a parent to a child that young. And because it takes all your energy and attention then, you think it will always be like this, that being a mother is always about putting someone else first, making sure they’re fed, rested, distracted or asleep before you look after yourself.
          But what’s also true about being a mother is how quickly each phase passes and, when it does, how completely it’s gone. It’s a tremendous and difficult adjustment to go from knowing every single breathing detail of a little person’s life, from being the font of all comfort and the repository of all secrets, to being forbidden from knowing their email password.
          My daughter is huge, a word that can only be used to describe someone who is 4-foot-10 and 90 lbs when remembering the easy weight of her perched on my hip, the lifting and carrying, the complete way I enveloped her in a hug. Her body is morphing into something I recognize as the mass of an adult and that’s strange because the adults in my life are my peers, not my children.
          Her personality is growing to match. No more the giddy, happily dependent and malleable little cherub I was free to lavishly adore. Now it’s: Could you please not always pay me attention, could you stand a little further off, could you not kiss me in public, could you give me more than 5 minutes to go to the store by myself, could you not be quite so interested in my life?
          It’s shopping with her at Value Village and realizing after 15 minutes of combing the men’s casual wear that I haven’t got a clue where she is. It’s also witnessing her mature concern for my grandmother, nearly 100, who’s been burdened with a talkative and restless new roommate in her close-quartered nursing home room.
          The growth and development of children mark change and the passage of time the way no other relationship does. As I sit across a lunch table with my relaxed and animated mother the day after her 75th birthday, I wonder if it’s still the same for her, if the on-going changes and maturities of her children are still a kind of inconceivable difference from the year before, and the year before that?

          It’s a constant negotiation of loss, of a two-year-old I’ll never hold again, of a four-year-old who’ll never run this way again, and also of the person I was then, rocking in the bedtime darkness or crouching in the summer sun. But it’s also a constant gain, if you can keep up. It’s the constant arrival in your life of someone new and interesting, who’s also as familiar as yourself.

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No more the happily dependent and malleable little cherub I was free to lavishly adore.