You are leaning in, and smiling. Your face is changing again, and already I can see the woman you are becoming, peeking out from the red velvet curtains of your youth. Freckles spring forth on your nose, wild, and unruly, like wildflowers in an untouched meadow. They spread across your cheeks, under the eyes shaped just like my great-grandmother, your namesake. You are ten, fully present on the stage of your own journey, alight with childhood wonder, and the beginning of your own becoming.
How lucky am I, I wonder. That I should have a front row seat to bare witness to your journey. How blessed I am, to be your mother.
You hug me, and when you do, you squeeze so tightly. There is not a hint of wanting distance between you and I yet. You are all in. Your intensity makes me laugh, but as there is little air left in my lungs, it comes out a foreign sound, one I barely recognize as my own. It is muffled, and smushed, having done acrobatics around your body to get out, but still, there.
This is just like love, I think. Just like everything in my life since I transitioned from Daughter to Mom.
Everything is different in me, and I am shocked to find that not everything under the sun has changed. I felt the shift so strongly, that I assumed the earth groaned and shifted her weight from leg to leg, while performing in this sort of cosmic ballet.
I stood, there at the hospital window, in pain. Hooked up to machines, that made me cower close to the plastic bed frame. I steeled myself for how different things would be, before summoning up the courage to let myself see. I was shocked to find that the grass was still green, the sky still overcast, the same buildings still standing, and gray. How could anything still be gray?
This couldn’t be right. There had been a reckoning. My whole life had changed in a one breath revolution. And yet, if I wasn’t mistaken, strangers walked by without even realizing what had happened.
Still, on our street, people are driving by, oblivious to the fact that things are changing. They don’t even realize how much you are growing. How could they comprehend, that for every yard they drive by with children playing, they have become an astronaut, zooming through time and space? Someone’s whole universe is playing behind that fence, while my whole world still fits in a ten foot by ten foot kiddy pool.
I want to stretch this moment out like silly putty. To hold eternity around my hands and wrists, like a yarn cat’s cradle.
I want to breathe you in, so that the smell of your hair never leaves me. To write in braille on my skin the feeling of holding you, so that even if there are moments where one or both of us can’t see clearly during your teenage years, that we can still read the truth.
I want to memorize by heart, the sound of our laughter. Want it to play on repeat through my head, like a catchy commercial, bubbling up whenever and wherever, interrupting thoughts and conversation.
I want for you to never leave me. But at the same time, I want you to. Not now, not yet. But when it’s time to.
I want you to go wherever you are meant to go. I want you to have adventure, and write your own story. I want you to scale high peaks, to climb your own tower. I want you to swim through deep blue waters, to feel the sand between your toes on the shore of each ocean.
And even as I am thinking of a future a million or eight years away, I am wondering if you will settle for anything less than someone who loves each freckle as much as I do. Or will you take care in choosing who you give your heart to?
This ultimately is not up to me, though it makes my knees feel shaky and weak.
So I do what I can, in this moment. I squeeze you back. I feel your ribs relax. You sigh, happily, content with being held by me. It is there, that garden gate opening, that I whisper what I need to say while you can hear it.
I tell you that you are lovely. That you are strong and brave. I tell you that you have the courage that this life takes. I tell you that I love you. That you are worth loving and protecting. And that no matter what happens, I am Team Ellie, all the way.
You nod, and relax your grip. Then sit beside me, your head resting on the side of my chest. You look content. The window closes, for now. I feel it. I bend down and whisper that I love you, anyway. Just in case some part of you still needs to hear it.
The sun is warm on my other arm and leg. My skin feels almost as tight as my chest. A bird lands in our yard, small and black. It meanders slowly around my garden, and back to the grass again. This bird, it seems, is in no rush to go anywhere else. And for once, neither am I.