Even though my 18-year-old daughter and I live a country’s width apart, she in southern California and I in North Carolina, we still argue.
I’m not bragging, just stating a fact.
Often I drift in my reverie to when she was about three years old and we walked neighborhood sidewalks hand-in-hand. I could still choose her clothes back then, and I am telling you she looked cute. There we’d be, walking together with her croaking out her little-girl questions about the world.
I wonder how the years passed without me managing to teach her another language (ignore the fact I only know one), how to play an instrument (no I don’t) or sending her to sleep away camp (I did go and it is one of my best childhood memories.) I didn’t go swimming with her because I was too self-conscious to get into a bathing suit. Sometimes she pleaded with me to get in the neighborhood pool with her, once or twice I did. The joy in her voice when I came in was unmistakable, “Mom’s coming in the pool!”
But, it was once or twice, max. She then resigned herself to the fact that I wouldn’t play with her in the water. I also didn’t teach her to cook (I can cook but I have with no patience, and I married a would-be chef.)
Now it’s gone. Her childhood is over. My sweet son is 15 so his is still here, but fading fast.
There is a new waterpark nearby; I’ve seen the advertisements. Everybody is having fun! Laughing as they slide – arms in the air – and tumble-down gigantic water slides. Oh my kids would love that! I want to take them there and watch their open-eyed amazement and feel their unabated, unabashed delirious innocent joy!
I want to take them to the beach and see their little arms and legs work furiously to fill and carry buckets of sand to the water. Stupefying concentration is required when burying a younger brother up to his neck in the sand. Then swelling pride for both when only his head is suspended above the shore. A laughing smile and his big brown eyes full of triumph would dampen only briefly when his sister shrieked, “Don’t move!” if a finger or toe sought the sun.
I hate passing time. Stop! Make the time stop so I can have just a while longer with my babies.
This great divide between my daughter and I began opening when she was 12 or 13. First a crack, then a crevice, then a canyon. Now I try to build a bridge, a little at a time. When I say “build a bridge” I mean see her and speak to her as more of a grown-up than a child. Patiently wait for the time she can answer me like an adult.
I can see her trying. We both are making inroads. A call back after exchanging harsh words. A patient text after losing patience. I think back to our closeness, how we would huddle and cuddle in bed talking or reading a book. If I had my way, I would still huddle and cuddle with her. But she’s not my little baby anymore.
Just my baby. Always, my baby.