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Parents

The Wonder and Heartache of Watching My Children Grow

I see her changing before my eyes and it fills me with a mixture of wonder and deep, deep sadness.

The weather has finally turned colder here in Southern California, the Thanksgiving holiday bringing with it two days of much-needed rain. The chill kept us indoors over the break, invited us to slow the pace of life and enjoy a respite from the usual hustle.

As I puttered about the house tidying the neglected spaces, my mind wandered back over the past year, a year that brought with it weighty milestones which somehow seemed to heighten its significance in comparison to my other journeys around the sun.

This year, I turned 40 and my oldest turned 10. Something about the roundness of those numbers, the marking of a decade, has made the passage of time feel more profound, brought it to the fore, and made it harder to ignore.

How is it that I’ve been a mother for a decade? How have 10 years passed since they placed that warm, pink bundle on my chest and my eyes met hers for the first time? How is possible that her years under my care, years in which she will belong to me and not the world, may be shorter than the time I’ve already been given?

These days, when she walks into a room dressed a certain way or with her hair just so, for a moment, the young woman she’s becoming emerges and the little girl fades. It’s like a flashbulb that lasts just a second, and if I wasn’t looking, really looking, I might miss it.

But I don’t miss it. I see her changing before my eyes and it fills me with a mixture of wonder and deep, deep sadness.

We spent Thanksgiving Day at my dad’s house. On the drive there, my son asked, “Mom, how much longer?” I offered my best estimate, which seemed to satisfy him. As I stared out the car window at the sun shining on the Pacific, his words resonated and vibrated in my soul.

How much longer?

How much longer?

When my children were babies and toddlers, in my mind, I used to ask different versions of that question with such impatience.

How much longer until she sleeps through the night?

How much longer until he uses the potty?

How much longer until she can tie her own shoes?

How much longer until they’re both in school?

How much longer until it gets easier?

How much longer until my life has room for me again?

Things are shifting and changing the way they do and now I’m asking new questions:

How much longer do I have? How much longer until I will be called to let them go?

It is the natural order of life. I have somehow known all along that having children was like making a covenant with the universe; agreeing that they are only on loan to me, only mine for so long. I will always be theirs but the promise of parenting is, little by little, to let them go.

Isn’t it strange how we spend so long willing time to move faster only to find ourselves grasping for it later?

Lately, I have wanted to beat back time, suspend it in this place, block its further passage. I have wanted to find a way to make aging —my parents, my children’s, and mine — untrue. But I know that’s not possible.

So what is left to do? How do I live with the knowledge that time is running faster than I’d like and there’s nothing I can do to stop it?

I have been wrestling with this question, turning it over and over in my mind.

And then, the answer came, and I realized it was right there in the question all along. When time is running faster than you’d like and you can do nothing to slow its pace, you live. Really live.

Embrace time and every moment. Give it your full attention and awareness. As I continue on this journey into the second half of my life, though I know I will sometimes falter, I am hopeful that I can do just that.