It gets me every time.
On a glowing hillside just before dawn, The BFG tells Sophie her dream for the first time.
“It tells the story of a little gal, a little chittler with her whole life ahead of her — with a family of her own,” BFG says. “Little chittlers of her own, too. Someday. There will be great successfuls and funnies ahead for her. And, truth to tell, just a dribble of despair. Times will be hard, times will be soft. Adventures will come and go, but in the end she remembers the good deeds. And Sophie, I know that story be your heart’s desire. I know that.”
I look at E.V. while The BFG talks, having memorized most of his words in my heart. She’s grinning, undoubtedly dreaming about her own “chittlers” and “great successful and funnies.”
And I’m in tears.
I can’t help but be sad at the passing of every stage of my girls’ lives. The tears come, and I can’t stop them. Most of the time I’m ashamed of them. Isn’t growing up the point? But what my heart has taught my head is that each closing of a chapter in my children’s lives is, in its own way, a small death. And where there is death, grief creeps in without knocking.
You see, I will never again hold my babies. They are gone. Replaced, yes, but the infants I carried in my own belly and arms, fed by my own body, are gone forever. I will never hold them again, never smell their heads again, never feel their tiny hand wrapped around my finger. It’s impossible, because they don’t exist anymore. They’ve become memories.
I’ve taken ten thousand photographs, captured moments of all sizes on film, made it my season’s work to soak in every ephemera and enchantment swirling around me over the past five years. But it’s not enough. Motherhood is like knowing the most important person in your world is going to die at a moment’s notice, but you won’t know it’s happened until they’re far gone. It’s insanely crushing and insanely beautiful all at once.
With Emma Vance and Cricket are getting older, I can feel the panic setting in. With each new phase, a small death. I will never watch my small child take wobbly steps in a diapered bottom again. Never see a toothless grin. Never struggle to make tiny, too-early pigtails. A mourning, mixed with gratitude and celebration that we’ve made it this far. I’ll never walk E.V. through the doors of preschool again. Sadness disguised. I’ll never squeeze that chubby belly into a onesie again. Tears resting in unblinking eyes disguised with a smile. I will never gently place my sleeping baby in a crib and hold my breath as I back out of the room. Regret and worry and loss all hiding under an invisible cloak, not wanting to be seen but ever-present.
Grief, of course, and joy, of course. And fear, too. Fear at the realization that these precious, sweet girls I filling up my world today will be gone tomorrow, that baby teeth will fall out, that the clothes will keep shrinking, that their imaginations will fade, that their innocent world view will be replaced by experience and opinion. And, then, that one day they’ll become the moms with babies on their hips.
The cribs are dismantled and gathering dust, and I’m finally learning that it’s okay to feel sad at the passing of time. We can never get back was has passed away, and grieving over those small deaths doesn’t dishonor the present; it simply honors the past. If there was no sadness, then there wouldn’t be meaning. We don’t mourn for those we didn’t know, nor for those we didn’t like. But the heaviest of hearts has loved most deeply, and with each passing phase, my heart feels like lead.
Motherhood is filled to the brim with mourning and dancing. Honestly, neither ever stops. The point, I suppose, is to learn to keep moving through the falling tears anyway. Even if they sneak up on you during “The BFG” every time.