Tonight will be the last night I tuck you in as a nine-year-old. Ten will greet us in the morning.
Ten. I keep repeating this number over and over. Each time, tears brim in the corner of my eyes. I remember your first bath in our home, a small apartment in Texas. I held the curve of your back, angling your body, holding your head in the right spot, while the water splashed and mixed with your two-week tears. In those early days, I wondered about your growth and my becoming. My palette of paint trickled into one another, one color indistinguishable from the other, night and day blurring together like some psychedelic kaleidoscope.
I reach for the lens gazing backward and forward, still trying to massage the reality that you are ten years older and I am firmly in midlife. Even though ten officially hits tomorrow, the preview started last year. In 2015, you announced, “Double-digits, Momma. Ten. I cannot wait.” You’re in a hurry, while my urge is to pause time, when Momma is still your preferred hero. But I see the pieces of you, swinging back to your tender childhood years and edging toward adulthood in one continuous pendulum. You, my dear, are trying to figure it all out.
Sometimes you rush to hug me when no one is looking, but other times, you usher me out of the door, afraid your friends might witness how much you love your Momma. When I try to kiss your cheek, in the middle of the grocery store or in front of friends, you say, “Not here, Momma. It’s embarrassing.”
Other times, you will ask to sleep in our room, laying out a makeshift mattress on the floor of our space. I sometimes hear your breathing at night. Slow and soft, comforted that you still want to sleep in the same room as your mother and father. Oh, but it’s a different story, when your friends are over. You command the room, boasting like a lion, ushering us out of your throne, like your too old to have any supervision from your parents.
But again, we shift back. You still say Marco, while we reply Polo, those nights when you need to find something in another room and haven’t quite reached the light switch. But, when your father tells you something, you immediately yell back, “I know, Daddy. I know how to do it.” I suspect this is a surge of independence and free will and the mismatched symphony that will occur in the teen years, but I move too fast. Ten is still ours.
While I am writing this to you, I hear the refrain from one of my favorite songs, Landslide. I hear the words, “But time makes you bolder, Even children get older, And I’m getting older too. . .” It is a landslide, all of it. An entire decade in a blink. I still ask, “How did this happen so fast?” One of life’s biggest clichéd questions urging us to look at its truth.
You are starting to see your truth and paving your way. Marching toward the end of the Harry Potter series. Making a calendar of your school deadlines. Announcing your resolutions like, “I need to be better with my emotions.” Baking homemade biscuits from your favorite chef, Pioneer Woman. Offering words of encouragement when I am feeling down and asking your father about the work he does. All these pieces outline the adult you.
But I am still lingering with the child you. The little girl who believes in Santa and magic. The little girl who laughs every time she farts. The little girl who loves notes from her Momma in her lunch. The little girl who never shies away from a wrestling match with her father. The little girl who giggles while watching My Little Pony and combs the hair of her American Girl doll. This is the little girl who is the one I want to keep close, adore a little while longer, before the space is filled with emotions I cannot fix and questions I cannot answer.
I’m busy taking cues, understanding letting go is a continual, painful process. I will never be ready. Not at ten or twenty or ever. Of course, I understand this hollowing is life. It allows you to have room for other experiences to fill you up. I understand that some of those future moments won’t include me or your father, but of other directions and people.
But know this, our dearest, only little girl, you have all of us. You always have and always will. We will be standing behind you as you forge ahead. The world is your ultimate trapeze, your parents, your forever safety net.
We love you. Happy Birthday.