There is a picture of Amelia on the fridge. Her with a shy smile and a shaggy haircut, her face round and chubby. It’s mounted on a rectangle of pink foam, covered in heart stickers placed messily by a 5-year-old hand. It’s been hanging there since the day she brought it home from kindergarten, just another piece of the detritus of childhood. But the other night, I caught a glimpse of it in the dimly lit kitchen, and I realized, that magnet is now a historical document. Its heart stickers are coming unstuck, the photo is smudged with … who knows what. And that little girl is gone, gone.
Today, my daughter is in sixth grade. She still wants to snuggle up beside me on the couch, still laughs at my stupid jokes, her face full of that old sweet sparkle. But I come home from work and find her with her face turned to the iPad screen, texting with a group of middle school kids I don’t even know. “Sup yo,” one of them writes. Who are these ruffians? Her hair is pulled back in a neat ponytail. What happened to the girl whose hair dangled stringily, who walked around with food stuck to her face, random stickers plastered to her shirt?
I walk to the park at the end of the block. My whole life as a mother is here. The days before, when I imagined myself bringing some unknown future child here. The early days, when I pushed a baby in a fuzzy pink romper in the swing. Her hood had two little round bear ears sewn to the top. The toddler days, when she conquered her fear of the slide and we climbed the metal “mountain.” Her first playdate, love at first sight, two tiny girls who fed me “soup” from buckets filled with sand, leaves, berries, and water from the fountain. The basketball court, where she rode her bike for the first time and then asked, sincerely, if there would be a parade to celebrate her accomplishment. Halloween parties, birthday parties, her flying around the circle on her scooter. Now, I am walking through the park with my dog, watching the families with young children eat their picnics and push their babies in the swings. I ask myself: Did I enjoy those days enough? Did I do the right things? I can’t remember.
I shouldn’t make it sound as if it’s all over. We still go to the park together sometimes. We swing side by side and talk about what’s happening at school. We watch the dog dig in the sandbox. My girl is still right here beside me, needing me as much as ever. Every day is both a beginning and an ending, and these days are no different.
Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that I am standing at the edge of a great divide, poised between what has been and what is yet to be. She and I, we are balancing here together. Behind us are those sweet, messy, clingy days of childhood. In front of us are the prickly choices of adolescence, choices between making her happy and keeping her safe. We can linger here a while longer, straddling two worlds. But I know that soon, we will have to clasp hands and step forward together.