By Lindsey Mead
One morning in the middle of the year Grace was in 3rd grade, while driving to school, I asked both my children what they thought they would remember as the main thing they had learned from me. Why I asked I’m not sure, but legacy and lessons were on my mind. Whit blurted out, “Potty training,” and all three of us laughed.
“Well, Whit, that is one thing I’m awfully glad you learned,” I said with a grin. Grace was looking out the window, pondering.
“Manners, I think,” she said, hesitating. “Oh, and paying attention.” I glanced back and caught her eye in the mirror, then brought my gaze back to the road. “Yeah, that. You talk so much about wonder. I guess paying attention to the wonder.”
We pulled up to school and the moment was gone. I walked both kids across the street and into the gate, pressed kisses on both of their cheeks, and got back in the car. I caught a glimpse of Grace’s profile as I waited to pull out and drive away, and was struck by how it still looked exactly like the silhouette of her as a nine month old that I’d had painted onto a Christmas ornament.
All day I thought about wonder. Urging my children to really notice things, and to remain open to wonder, is without a doubt one of the central themes of my parenting. I am extremely porous to the world, to both its grandeur and its terror, and sometimes this overwhelms me. If I were paying slightly less attention, for example, perhaps I’d be able to get through a day without being brought to my knees by the slicing realization of how fast it’s all going. But I don’t know how to be in the world any other way. And so I’m left with what I notice, and with what I wonder.
I have so many questions about what lies ahead on this mothering road. On Grace’s tenth birthday, one of my close friends expressed disbelief (and perhaps a little frustration) at my sentimentality. “Why do you feel sad,” she asked, “When we’ve talked about how it keeps getting better?”
I don’t know the answer to that. Hopefully it will keep getting better. Probably, it will. But right now, everything feels tremendously uncertain, and I can’t see very far ahead. I keep thinking of EL Doctorow’s headlights, reassuring myself that I can make the whole journey this way.
What do I worry about? I worry about guiding Grace through the enormous physical changes that lie ahead for her. I worry about all the things that may chip away at her self-esteem: the attention of boys, eating disorders, huge pressure to perform at school, tension about admission to selective schools. I worry about keeping at bay technology that could distract or harm her while also realizing that she will grow up in a world where familiarity with those things is crucial. I worry about how to preserve her interest in the outdoors and in unstructured play—what feels like the essence of her childhood—in a world that privileges accomplishment and achievement.
I worry about the over-sexualization of young girls and what that means about what she should wear, when she should pierce her ears, or wear makeup.
I have opinions about all of these areas. I’ve never been short on opinions. But one thing I’ve learned in over 10 years as a mother is how quickly what is can vanquish what we thought would be. I used to scoff at when people said their children were their teachers. What a cliché, I always thought to myself, rolling my eyes internally. But now I understand it. Grace has overturned my assumptions time and again, and I expect that will continue to be true as we move forward into this next phase.
All of these fears are real. But I know there is one central, overarching worry. It is that our relationship will irrevocably fray. I worry that if that happens we won’t recover the closeness we share now. I believe fiercely in the importance of my daughter’s blossoming independence, and over and over again I actively foster it. But in my deepest, most honest mother heart, I worry that I’m not myself strong enough to weather months or years of her desire and need for distance. My most common and frequent worry—occurring to me several times a day, at least—is that this season of my life is almost over.
But braided through all these worries, there is so much wonder. There was the wonder of my toddler daughter stooping to notice a weed poking through the sidewalk, or the wonder of my six year old son the first time he made contact with a baseball pitched at him. There is the wonder we all feel at the “fairy stream” near the tower that we love to climb, and the wonder that sweeps over me when I watch my sleeping children, the babies they were once animate and visible in the planes of their faces.
The web of worries is wide, but twined throughout it, there is so much wonder.
Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston. Her work has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources including the Huffington Post, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, and Literary Mama. She blogs at A Design So Vast and is also on Facebook and Twitter.
This is Childhood, a book and journal about the first years of motherhood