pinned to the spokes

tricycle.  “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.riding.

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.

littleAnd 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.

there she is.

give me something to believe in

Santa.I went into this holiday season knowing that, probably, it would be the last year my oldest daughter believed in Santa Claus.  After all, the doubting had already started: But someone told me Santa is really just your parents. And, He can’t possibly be in Africa right now and here tonight.  And, Reindeer can’t actually fly, Mommy.

Until this year, her grandmother and I had disagreed about encouraging belief in things like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy (though my daughter is still fairly certain the two shared a cup of coffee in our living room last year); I didn’t see the harm in it, and perhaps she didn’t see the point.  Sure, eventually, we all find out that it’s not exactly as we thought. I can vividly recall sitting at the white cafeteria table in fourth grade with a girl named Tammy, who always wore a ribbon barette on each side of her natural part, forcing her head to resemble the handlebars of a small child’s bicycle with its plastic tassels blowing in the wind. She said, tilting her handlebar head, “I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus.”  As far as I was concerned, there was no need for a spirit because Santa wasn’t dead.  (Did I mention that I was a very young fourth-grader?)

Sure, I was disappointed.  But there was no emotional scarring.  And I didn’t consider my parents to be liars.  And after reading this article, even my mother-in-law was convinced.

This face.

As a parent, I don’t always know what I’m doing (it’s only on rare occasions that I do know, it seems), but one thing I’m certain of is that there was something in my daughter’s face on Christmas Eve; her skin was so bright and white, as though it had been lit from somewhere inside. Her eyes were crisp and ready.

We came home after an evening of church and family and too much food. All three kids watched their messages from Santa (individually, my daughter said, just in case someone was on the naughty list — it wouldn’t be nice for the rest of us to know). They had opened the packages marked for December 24th, and donned this year’s pajamas for a picture in front of the tree. They put out the carrots and water, the cookies and milk.  I suggested leaving Santa a beer, but my oldest reminded me that he still had quite a bit of driving to do that night.

Shortly after we tucked them in, she came out of her bedroom and clung to the door frame.  She knew the rules:  no leaving the bedroom until it was light outside. “But Mommy,” she said.  “We forgot to put out the stockings.”  Her eyes were desperate. Please, they said. And almost, Just in case.

Stay this way.Maybe it’s that, sometimes, we forget she’s only seven. But she doesn’t. What I’ve learned about her, especially lately, is that she really enjoys being her age.  She likes being a kid, and maybe even a little kid. She’s in no rush to grow up.  Just the other day, during a quiet moment on the ride home, she said, “Second grade is going by so fast.”

She still holds my hand when she’s around a gaggle of giddy girls who can tell you the difference between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy S-4, and have some working knowledge of Harry from One Direction. I admit that I bought her a pair of skinny jeans last month, but only because they were no others in her size at TJ Maxx and her single pair at home was covered in paint, with holes in each of the knees.

She wants to grow up slowly.  And we’re okay with that.

So maybe, this year, she wanted to keep believing, and so she was only letting herself believe.  She was practicing her own “willing suspension of disbelief.”  Maybe she was believing for her siblings.  Or for me.

Or maybe because there’s so much about this world she isn’t ready to believe in.

Yes. This.

We drove to the beach on Christmas Day, to our favorite pocket of the county.  The kids built castles and stood knee-high in the Gulf of Mexico.  We rocked out to ZZ Top on the ride home ’cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man.  That evening, we ordered General Tso’s chicken and Mu Shu pork and as we sat together, she said, “This is nice.” At the same time, I was thinking, This is what I believe in.

I’m going to wait for her to tell me that Santa isn’t real.  And, maybe, she never will.

i guess this is growing up

The other day, I took a picture of my son’s baby face just because I wanted to remember it that way, just because I knew that it would change.  And then it changed.

And the same thing is happening to my daughters.  When did this one’s torso stretch itself so thin? When did her bones grow angular?  When did that one’s legs out-lengthen her pants?

Though it sometimes stops me for a minute, I think I’m ready for this.  Do I have a choice?

There are times when I miss them being babies; and then the youngest decides, one evening, to cough so hard he vomits his noodles all over himself and his crib.  Bewildered by a fever and a second nightime bath, he rests his head on my shoulder, letting me rock him to sleep.  He gives me a moment to remember rocking him to sleep, to remember rocking all of them to sleep.  And so I don’t miss it anymore.

And even though my oldest can define the word tenement and enjoys discussing algebra at the dinner table, she still yells “Mommy!” and bursts through the playground gate, jumping into my arms, when I pick her up from school.  I struggle with her fifty-three pounds, but walk a few steps, letting her hang.  I can’t imagine she’ll do this much longer. But she still does it now.

And the middle one. Oh, the middle one.  She knows she’s not a baby because her brother is, and she’s dying for homework like her sister, but know’s she’s not there yet, either. She makes me wait in the foyer while she walks into school “all by my own self,” but still asks me to sit by her bed and rub her back until she falls asleep each night.

The first time I read that Love You Forever book, I was a little creeped out by the illustrated image of the tiny mother cradling an adult son in her lap.  But now I get it, I think.  I stood outside church one time, swaying with my too-big son, hoping to get him to sleep long enough to last through the homily, and an older gentleman walked by.  He leaned in close to me (so as not to wake the almost-sleeping giant) and said, “Don’t let your arms get tired.  Mine’s thirty and I’m still holding him.”

And last weekend, I watched as a just-twenty-year-old stood in the kitchen, her mother pulling pieces of her daughter’s hair into a braid.  And even though she had to stoop a few inches, the child hasn’t yet outgrown her mom.

We give them enough slack to almost let them go, but they stay tethered to their spools.  Like little kites.