“You can let go now,” she said. She was right; she had already learned to balance, and I was holding on too long. I gave the bicycle’s seat a final shove and watched her take off up the street, the road’s slight incline lifting her toward the sunsetting sky.
The day she learned to really do it by herself, my husband and I high-fived so hard our palms stung pink. And I knew what was different about this milestone; we had finally taught her something we could see. There was her concentrated gaze. There were her forward-facing knees and feet. There was her death-grip on the outside edge of the handlebars.
There she was. On two wheels. And she hadn’t done it by herself.
It had taken entirely too long, of course; she was just a week away from turning nine years old. Even I, a late-to-the-party bike rider, managed to ride my second-hand hot pink Huffy down the smallest hill on Chestnut Street by the end of second grade. But that’s the way things are with her. She’s cautious about these rites of passage. She’s cautious about coming of age.
That’s not to say she’s not mature. She is. In fact, most might even call her precocious. But something inside her little body wants it to stay that way forever. She wants to resist growing up.
About a month ago, I had a stressful week and to quiet my mind before helping the girls with their homework, I put on The Weepies‘ Hideaway album. As soon as the first notes of “Can’t Go Back Now” began, she spun her head around to find me. “Oh!” she said. “This reminds me of Jane when she was little.” And her whole face filled itself up with sadness. Not a crying kind of sadness, exactly. But a kind of sadness that made her wince. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “Jane will never be little again, and I miss that Jane.”
The next week, as we were walking out of daycare with her younger brother, I commented on his height, and how he was suddenly so much more little boy than baby. She looked down at the pavement and did that wince again. “But I like that he’s little,” she said.
And I realized that what she was feeling was similar to the sensation I have whenever I find a baby bib or blanket that has hidden itself among the doll clothes or a rubber-tipped spoon stuffed behind the silverware. There’s a momentary pull in the center of my heart. And it’s not because of what’s gone, but because of what will never be again.
It’s not that she’s especially upset about her siblings losing their littleness. It’s that she knows that as they keep growing, so will she.
Of course, the evidence isn’t always as tender or poignant as her reaching out to touch the top her brother’s buzzed head (without him fighting back). Recently, on the ride home from a Saturday morning filled with soccer, the word “puberty” somehow graced us with its presence.
“What’s puberty?” she said.
“That’s when girls get boobs,” I said. (Cut me some slack. I was put on the spot and something more profound just didn’t spring to mind.)
“Ew.” She rolled her eyes away from me and back toward the window.
On Thursday night, she sat beside me on the couch, her knees hugged to her chest. “It’s my last day of being eight,” she sighed. I knew she was concerned, contemplating what kinds of things might come with nine.
You can let go now, I almost said to her. But I couldn’t yet bring myself to do it.