This is Ten

This is Ten

WO This is Ten Art 2By Lindsey Mead

This essay is excerpted from Brain, Child’s book, This is Childhood Book & Journal.

I spent my teenage summers at a wonderful, rambling house on the Massachusetts shore with several families. There was always a tangle of children and we got in the habit of going for swims after dinner. One summer, there was phosphorescence. I have never forgotten those unexpected, bright swirls of light, otherworldly, as blinding as they were fleeting

Ten is like that. Ten is phosphorescence. Ten blazes brightly and vanishes so quickly you wonder if your eyes are playing tricks on you.

Ten is a changeling. In my daughter’s mahogany eyes, I see the baby she was and the young woman she is fast becoming. In one moment she’s still a little girl, clutching her teddy bears before bed, and in another she is a near-teenager, dancing and singing along to Nicki Minaj. She oscillates between wanting to bolt for the horizon of young adulthood that she can see and wanting to shrink from it, nestling instead in early childhood with me.

Motherhood has offered me more surprises than I can count, but the biggest one is how lined with loss it is, how striated with sorrow. I am blindsided, over and over again, by the breathless rush of time. For every single thing that will never come again, though, there is a dazzling surprise, a new skill, a new wonder, a new delight. All of parenting is a constant farewell and an endless hallelujah wrapped together, but ten feels like an especially momentous combination of the two.

Ten is evanescent, liminal, unquestionably the end of something, and just as surely the beginning of something else. As my daughter noted, in tears, the night before her tenth birthday, she will “never be single digits again, ever.”

The only thing ten wants more than her ears pierced is a dog. She still laughs uproariously as she flies down a sledding hill, but she also shrugs nonchalantly at the top of a black diamond slope before turning down it and executing perfect turns, her duct-tape-covered helmet a blur of color against the snow.

Ten wears tall Ugg boots I can fit into and impossibly long yoga pants that I mistake for my own when I am folding laundry. Ten organizes her crayons in rainbow order, and I can see the alphabetized spice rack that lies ahead.

Ten swings masterfully across the monkey bars, dribbles a soccer ball all the way up the field and scores, and plays good enough tennis that we can play actual games. Ten loves board games and Club Penguin, and the door of her closet is covered with posters of Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. When will these girls be replaced in her affection by boys, I wonder? I hope not too soon.

Ten is streaks of brilliance in the dark sea, whose provenance is unknown, which vanish as fast as they appear.

Ten sat on my lap this week, her toes brushing the floor on either side of my legs. I ran my fingers over a temporary tattoo of a shooting star on her arm, and thought: that is what ten is. Ten is a shooting star. An explosion of light and kinesis that will never come again. Blink and you’ll miss it.

Ten leaves heartfelt, tear-jerking notes for me on my pillow, professing her love, devotion, and thanks. Ten sometimes walks icily away from me at school drop-off, refusing to turn around, angry about something.

Ten is sensitive and easily bruised, confused by the startling meanness that can flare in other adolescent girls, desperate to be liked. Ten is alternately fragile and fierce.

Ten is vehement attachment and lurching swipes at separation. When ten grows up, she wants to be a veterinarian, a mother, and a writer. In the “about the author” section of a book she wrote at school, she said that the author took five years to write the book, because she was also raising her children. Ten doesn’t miss a single thing, and what I do matters a hundred times more than what I say.

Ten kneels in front of the “fairy stream” at a nearby park, breath drawn, and I swear that enchantment still brushes past her, like her heroine, Hermione, running by under the invisibility cloak. Ten caught my eye last Christmas when she said something about Santa, conveying in a single look that she knew he wasn’t real but that she didn’t want to ruin it for her younger brother.

Ten is the child who made me a mother, my pioneer, my trailblazer, walking hand-in-hand with me through all the firsts of her childhood and my motherhood. Ten is grace. Ten is my amazing Grace.

Anne Sexton said, “I look for uncomplicated hymns, but love has none.” Ten is a complicated hymn, a falling star, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in time, an otherworldly flash of green gorgeousness in the dark ocean.

Author’s Note: I studied English in college, and wrote my thesis on poetry and motherhood. After graduation, however, I took a sharp turn into the business world and stayed there for many years. It was watching my children, finally—particularly their here-now stubbornness and simultaneous persistent reminder of time’s passage—that prodded me back to the page. Many things about parenting have surprised me, but none more than how unavoidably bittersweet it is. “This is Ten” is one of many pieces I have written about my daughter and son in an attempt to remember the small, mundane, yet blindingly beautiful details of their (and our) everyday lives.

Lindsey Mead is a mother, writer, and financial services professional who lives outside of Boston with her husband, daughter, and son. She graduated from Princeton with an AB in English and received an MBA from Harvard. Her work has been published in a variety of print and online sources. She writes regularly at A Design So Vast.

EXCERPTED FROM  This is Childhood

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This is Ten: Lindsey Mead

This is Ten: Lindsey Mead

Kris Woll interviews Lindsey Mead, a contributing writer in This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of childhood:

Lindsey MeadWhat was your inspiration for writing this piece? Have you written other things about this age/stage?

I have written about and to my children consistently since they were very small, but it’s true that my daughter turning 10 felt particularly meaningful to me. I wrote a piece to her right before her 10th birthday about things I hoped she knew upon turning 10 which I published and shared. I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of writing, really, that I do about the various ages and stages of my children. The first, much more common, is an attempt to memorialize them, to press the details of them at a particular moment—and of our lives at that same time—into amber, to hold onto the particulars of what I know to be an immensely, painfully fleeting time. “This is Ten” is that kind of writing—a love letter to a moment in time. The second, which is rarer, is “to” them but also, I’ve realized, to myself—so much of parenting is learning lessons as I observe them, remembering things I want to believe, know, do, and exemplify, and sometimes I try to convey that to them but also, without question, to myself. My “10 things” piece was this kind of essay.

What is it about age 10 you liked the most? The least?

Well, Grace is 11 now, and Whit is 9, so I remember 10 extremely fondly. I don’t think there was much that I didn’t like about the age, other than the unavoidable way “double digits” tolls the bell of time’s relentless march. I adored the way Grace was still a child, despite her coltishly long legs and ever-more-mature face. She rejoiced in the tiniest things, held my hand, wondered at the world. The age of 10 is just plain magic.

What do you wish you knew before you had a 10-year-old, or what advice do you wish you could tell your former self about mothering at that particular stage?

I would tell myself to be kinder to myself. I still feel such immense guilt about the postpartum depression that marked my first months as a mother, and I wish I could release that. I would tell myself to pay attention and to breathe. But I’m wary of that advice, because whenever people told me that, and they did, a lot, I experienced it as pressure. Something I wasn’t doing enough of: loving this role, this season, motherhood. I did love it, I see now, and I still do, but in part I think we have to come to that appreciation, come to see how rich and myriad and messy and wonderful is life with small children ourselves. As well-intentioned as “appreciate it!” advice is from others, and I believe it is, I don’t think most mothers respond particularly well to it.

Besides your own piece, which other piece in the collection do you relate to the most? Why?

It’s hard to say. I genuinely love every piece in this collection. When I conceived of the idea, I could never have imagined how moving, honest, and flat out marvelous each essay would be. In some ways I relate the most to the older ages—eight, nine—because that is where my children are. In other ways I particularly love the younger ages—one, two, three—because they remind me of a time that feels so long ago now.

How do writing and mothering fit together for you? How has that fit over time?

They are inextricable for me. Ernest Hemingway said, “I never had to choose a subject—rather my subject chose me” and that’s how I feel about motherhood. I have always written, my whole life, but it wasn’t until I had two small children that I truly turned to the page. It’s not as simple that my subject is motherhood, necessarily, but Grace and Whit exposed the drumbeat march of time in a way that I could not ignore. Paradoxically, they also slowed me down for the first time: we’ve all had the experience of walking down the street with a toddler and noticing through their eyes, the streak of an airplane across the sky and the dandelion pushing up between the blocks of cement. It takes forever, but man is it worth it. Motherhood has contained more surprises for me than I can count, but one of the main ones is how bittersweet it is. Every single day I’m brought to my knees by something that’s suddenly gone, over, never to come again. I can literally hear time whistling by my ears. And simultaneously, I’m reminded over and over again of how much richness a single minute or day can hold. Motherhood shows me the glory that my every day life holds, and writing helps me unfold it, understand it, and remember it.

What is your advice to other mother writers?

Just write. Keep writing. No matter the form. I blogged, others write diaries, others write books. There is always a reason not to write, and there are plentiful excuses when children are small. I wrote my thesis in college on motherhood and poetry in the lives of three 20th century poets and read at great length about how hard it is to sit your butt in the chair and write after being up all night with a colicky infant. I’m of two minds on this: be gentle with yourself, and recognize that this is a short-lived season, but also, just write some of it down. It will be worth it to have the memories.

What do you hope readers will take with them from your piece? From this collection?

I hope I have, in some small way, captured the immense majesty that’s contained in the tiniest details of this life, of motherhood. Gail Godwin noted that “the more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite” and that’s something I think of every single day. The only way I know of truly seeing the glittering, dazzling beauty of the universal and infinite is by capturing and honoring these smallest things, singular and perhaps even strange. I really hope this collection helps to remind readers of the value of doing this, and prods them to see how much gorgeousness there is even in the most exhausted, messy moments.

Read an excerpt from Lindsey’s “This is Ten” essay 

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