Sean and I have joked that the girls are like a time-lapse—their stair-step ages making for a perfect peek into what is ahead/behind for each. Lately, I’ve been making a concerted effort to revel in now; now being that Briar is 9, Avery is 7, and Finley is 5. It can be so easy to get led down the trail of lingering on the times when my babies were actually babies when my purse would overflow with wipes, puffy snacks, and breast milk bags. The way my shirts had permanent creases from the Baby Bjorn and the backs of my shoulders always bore the sheen of dried banana. Equally alluring can be looking ahead to the idea of soon; when the girls will be old enough to stay home alone—no more date nights at the mercy of sitter schedules or discretionary funds. No more scrambling to pack lunches, open wrappers, or orchestrate bathing.

We’re not at then or soon; we are firmly rooted in now, which feels less defined than other times we’ve known. Avery and Finley are moving faster than Briar did, the milestones are upon us before we recognize that they are approaching. We are beyond spelling out words to keep our conversations somewhat private. We’ve entered the realm of the girls erupting in wild blushes when Sean and I kiss. They can pour their own drinks, but they often spill them. They have homework that I can’t quite understand and they are too smart for me to hide it.

The other day we were at home, everyone was burned out from watching movies on vacation and it was too cold to go sledding. The girls were bored and circling like fruit flies.

“How about you go and read for a while?” I asked

“Will you read with me?” they all sang back from different corners.

“Why don’t you play a game?”

“Fibber!” squealed Finely.

“Actually, honey, I am going to rest for a bit, so you need to pick a game that you can play without me.” Crestfallen, she looked around. The guilt seared, but part of this time is also carving out periods when they entertain themselves. They began to talk about games, but they just couldn’t agree.

“Ok, how about this, I’ll give you assignments?” they were at my feet in seconds.

“Assignments? What do you mean assignments? Like homework?”

“No, I’ll write down a character and you go and find a costume or disguise to look like that person.” Finley started panting, “Yes, yes, oh yes. Ok, what’s my assignment?”

I began jotting things down—

an author from England who wears glasses

an actress playing the starring role in the movie version of the author’s adventure book

a secret agent from a very cold place

Avery and Finley immediately began sparring over who would be the author. Briar had slipped away, her fingers swiping at the iPad.

“C’mon Bri, what’cha doing? Let’s go be our assignments,” Finley gushed.

Ave cocked her head, “Coming?”

Briar looked up shyly. “Uh, I don’t think so. I’m going to stay down here.” Her sisters tried cajoling her into joining in, even offering up the choice author assignment. She shook her head and they bolted upstairs. I bit my lip as I watched her sit back, eyes on the screen, but ears craning to hear her sisters. They thundered from room to room exclaiming things like, “Ooh, yes, the headlamp for the secret agent.”

“Sure you don’t want to go up, B?” I asked.

“Well, no. I mean, yes, I am sure. I just can’t really, well I don’t know how to—I’m good.”

I know this moment, the shift from caring about how the activity feels, to caring about it looks. I want to wrap my arms around her and carry her upstairs. Not yet, B, not yet. I could make her play, help her find the best costume and create harmony with her feeling good about how she looks and her sisters delighting in her participation. It wouldn’t change the fundamental shift. She’s not comfortable at play. Avery hints at this in her own ways, Finley too if I’m honest.

I’m trying so hard to support their evolution, but some days it feels like holding icicles in my hand. I am so tender, careful not to squeeze too hard or bend them in ways they aren’t meant to go, but it’s out of control. The ice melts beneath my touch, the shape constantly changing, my instinct to hold on as fierce as my need to let go for the pain I feel in holding. I watch the drops, marveling at the way they shimmer and explode, spraying new light in all directions. It’s magnificent, but at the same time, I feel defeat.

How can I hold water? How can I possibly be present when all I can see is the immutable truth that they will rush away in coursing waves?

Their trails will dry, the shimmer and dancing gone.

I know my job is to bear witness, to recognize that they are not so much mine as they are with me. Eventually, they will roost in a place that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the amazing people they’ve become. I think what I am allowing is that it’s also my right to have my own melt, tears escaping at the impossible beauty of watching them become their own shapes.