It’s been coming for a while now, though I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on it. It’s sinew in the musculature I’ve acquired through 10 years of parenting and writing. It’s a taut bit that pulls at me, keeping me from going as far as I might want in a certain direction. The other night as we crested the bluff near the summit, I looked away from the smattering of twinkling lights that are our little town and I turned instead to the back side of the mountain.
I looked at the trees and drank in the colors of the sunset, the familiar pinks, purples, and blues of so many pictures that we’ve pinned to the wall or tucked away between the pages of cherished books. I looked over at Sean and felt my shoulders slip, wiggling out of the tense clothes hanger line that they so swiftly settle into at some blurry moment between racing to the bus stop and sitting down to my desk at work. He’d pushed for us to squeeze in a few runs; I’d lobbied to get the driveway cleared. We’d split the difference and done most of the driveway before heading to the mountain.
I second guessed the decision until halfway up the lift. It was just us. The film of guilt that so often sullies grown-up time, the indefatigable sensation that I am doing something other than what I ought to, was completely absent. Our legs swung as the lift gently rocked, my eyes stung as we emerged from the cover of trees and the wind hit. The smile of a dozen summers broke across my face as the air reminded me of poking my face out the window and of throwing my mouth wide open, allowing the gusts of wind to rattle my face and make sounds as they rushed inside.
Pushing off the chair, we headed for the trail and I felt the understanding sink in—our stories are changing, just as teeth are being lost and crushes are being lit, the rhythm of how we sway in the wake of our own momentum is new. Briar and I have talks at bedtime, the lights turned out, her sisters tucked away in their own room, we conspire—to learn, to laugh, and to begin the startling and exquisite journey to a place where the way she needs me is different, less predictable.
The times when all three girls are in agreement seem less, yet they have certain things that fuse them together. I am devouring all of it, while realizing that there are shadows cropping up, plumes of warning.
I cannot share every story and I cannot be present for every moment. We were supposed to get to this moment, despite the lump in my throat, at their ascent and my own racing heart; this is good. My clench is slowing to a pulse, allowing me moments of letting go—
“Sure, you can take a run without us, but please stay together,” I call to them as they disappear into the blur of neon ski coats, the other words about being super careful and not crashing into a tree fade at the back of my throat. They are letting go too.
We revisit before together, “Mama, ‘member how I used to always be in your arms?” Finley whispers as she strokes my face at bedtime.
“Yes, of course I do. You want to know a secret?” I ask. She nods.
“You are still there. That sweet, little Fin that you were, she’s always going to be in my arms. We get to keep each other together when we remember.”
“So even when I’m growed up and move away, but maybe not ’cause I might want to live with you and dad forever, I’ll still be with you in my baby time?”
“Exactly.” She sighs contentedly. I wrap my arms around her forever.