...a photo of our daughter sits next to the printer. She wears a red velvet dress, holds a peach rose, each petal fringed crimson. She’s leaned against the white marble statue of a hand, so large that the palm’s lifeline curves past her shoulders and she is cupped, the hand extending still three feet above her head. She likes the photo, she tells me, because of how she’s held. I tell her I love it too—but don’t wax on about how it’s a great metaphor for divine protection, for all the times I won’t be able to be with her. I tell her instead I love it because it reminds me of our girl date. The rose was for Sandy (that mom-who-happens-to-be-a-sculptor) and we were on the way to see her work on the town square. It was nearly Mother’s day, and we ran into a friend from my grammar school (Doug) who was out shopping for a present for his mom.
“I’m coaching softball now,” he said, and then leaned down on his knees towards my girl. “Do you know what we used to call your mom?” She shrugs shyly. “The Polish Powerhouse. You should’ve seen her hit that ball.” Watching her blush, I realize I want time to slow—she’s only 8, but I want her still to care more than anything about her ferals, the hat she’s knitting, buckeyes.
I can’t imagine being ready to let her go, ever. But I have, she’s in 2nd grade and goes most days. And every day she comes back to me, down the gangplank, lunch basket in hand and an octopus arm’s worth of clothing for me to carry to the car, trailing 11x13 drawings of Philomel and the King of Ireland’s son on horseback.
Later, standing in the stairwell, just outside the bedroom door, seventh milk-skin of the day forming on my tea, I’m reading Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman:
A mushy, brown peach is lifted from the garbage and placed on the table to pinken. It pinkens, it turns hard, it is carried in a shopping sack to the grocer’s, put on a shelf, removed and crated, returned to the tree with pink blossoms. In this world, time flows backward. (p. 102)
If, somewhere in the universe, such a tree exists, well, then, I can stand to love my daughter, my sons, as much as I do. In loving them, I face every parent’s fear: losing them. Maybe you don’t just get to ripen once—but you can actually return to the limb, ripen at a pace dictated by season and sun, and fall again to Earth. That small window of brightness might recur, then, if one allows it. I write in hopes of stumbling upon such a sequence of words or images that alters the world so I might inhabit it more fully. Would that it do the same for someone else, reading.
For once you have a child you are host to a kind of dual citizenship as parent and child. Behind you: your childhood, which you pack up in a trunk until moments like now, or when you run into childhood friends. Before you: your parenthood, in which you must rise to the occasion and shepherd your little ones through their childhoods. There are many yous under your skin, and you empathize now with your parents, your children, and your own child self who comes out only late at night (when the rest of the family sleeps) to float soundlessly back up to the peach tree, ready to start over again, day after day.