Our arrival to the next phase has been an exercise in time bending. My friend Lindsey Mead often says, “Years are minutes,” which to me is breathtaking in its truth. I can still feel the sensation of nursing the girls, whether for sustenance or to ease an injury. Their tiny heads nestled in my arm, impossibly soft fingers patting my side or stroking my chin. I remember the chill of the hard lift chair at Pico beneath me as I watched the three of them ride the lift alone together for the first time. Just like that, it was over, they ride together now.
It was the perfect metaphor for how the success of parenting is in shepherding the kids to be able to move just out of your reach, susceptible to danger, and leaving your arms empty. Sean laced his arm around me and whispered, “You ok, mama?” It won’t be the last time he says those words.
Since December Briar has been rehearsing for her role in Les Misérables. Avery was working on a production of her own as a performer, as well as another where she was on the stage crew. They are 20 months apart, bonded in a way that people tell us is not normal, and still, as different as night and day. They are both drawn to the stage, but in it seek very different things.
The pull to different schedules and the shifting of the spotlight are challenging, but when done within the tumultuous emotions and energy of puberty it can be heartbreaking. This isn’t because they are girls; it’s a natural evolution between siblings and family unit to spider into new territory, specifically in ways that are not laced together. During Les Mis the song One Day More is threaded throughout, sometimes a cry for one more day, other times a lament to get through one more day. I witness Briar and Avery testing new things, time apart, comparisons, and declarations of identity, I feel caught between the meanings of one more.
First, there was a trip to Sephora to explore make-up, not to look like other people, “It’s really like art and I think being able to express myself on my face would be great.” Then there was a late night talk about fitting in and figuring things out, requests to stagger bedtime for alone time or one-on-one time with me, ragged sighs over being interrupted, and eyes rolling over countless things. I can’t buy them clothes anymore, they want to steer toward what they like, which I don’t innately know.
They are often so caught up in what they are doing that my voice doesn’t register. I ache for the fresh-from-the-bath giggles and scents, but a touch on my shoulder and the words, “I can do that for you” is wild.
I cannot have it all and I can. They remember when they were little and many times need to revisit it as much as I do. “Can you tell me things about when I was little? Just until I fall asleep? I want to dream about it, kind of like being little again.”
I smile in the dark and do my best to follow my memories back. Finley is not yet pulling away; she dives deep into goofiness and togetherness. Nearly everything is more enjoyable when she has a sister with her, or me in a pinch. Suppressing the impulse to cajole them into playing together is gritty work; ‘fixing it’ undoes all the work we’ve all done. Then sometimes it just happens.
I think about one of the things I’ve had on repeat lately, which is the idea that each day we get the chance to (re)define ourselves. It’s particularly helpful when something crappy happens—harsh words spat in a moment of anger at a sister, something humiliating on the bus, a bad grade.
“This isn’t who you are. Your next test can be different. Any time you want you can choose to do things differently. It doesn’t take away all the hurt, but other people don’t get to say who or what you are.” I’m figuring out that I could stand to use a lot of the wisdom I try to dish out to them.
Day by day we try, holding our tongues for different reasons. This phase we’ve hit takes all of us to new places and understanding how to be who we want to be without losing who we have been and who we love is hard work. There is wistfulness and rage, heartbreak and hilarity.
There is also Finley, a tether and an invitation to joy in the most irresistible way.
She is uncomplicated. I watch the girls use her as permission to play and also as a safe zone. She helps us all articulate why things change and in doing so it feels slightly more gentle. Mostly though, she helps us remember to love for one more day.