I don’t know which love is greater, the love I share with my husband, or the love I have for my children. More than intertwined, they are deeply tangled. To try and choose, would require unraveling their knots of time, and pulling them apart would cause too much pain.
Both of these loves began with worry. Early on love's seed was barely planted, still loose beneath the soil. I should have been nurturing it's newness but instead raced ahead. I was worried about what loss would feel like, before love even had time to take root, grow and blossom.
The story of my husband and I began with a dance. Something moved in me that moment when he took me in his arms. We danced the way my parents did, after spending half their lives together. And like my parents, my husband and I are both tall, yet still somehow I felt small and light within his arms, as if we were floating across that room.
After, our friendship stretched from his home in North Carolina, to mine in Arizona. We filled the space between us with thousands of words, whispered words and written words, long before we shared our days and nights. It was on our first real date when we discovered we also shared an 18 year age difference. I loved him already, so it seemed natural to start worrying right away about someday losing him. Worrying that I would still be living, and he could be taken from my life.
The love for our first daughter Olivia, began with warnings and worry while she was still in my womb. My husband drove us frantically to the hospital, then watched a helicopter carry us away. I learned patience then, and how worry and love can keep a baby healthy.
Zoe was born next, and my love for both girls rushed steadily into a never ending flow of night into day, and day into night, loving and mothering, two baby girls born twenty months apart.
When Olivia was almost 4, and Zoe was 2 , I still was honeymooning with these two little people. Their love for me was fresh and new each morning, and would shine throughout the day. I was amazed at how it seemed so natural and easy, and yet so damned hard all at the same time.
And then Zoe was 3, and her words had still not come. It was a time when her arms were always around me, clutching on for comfort, when finally, a doctor knew the name and cause of her illness, but would not guess how long she might live. “Could she leave us when she’s 10?” I asked. His reply was a simultaneous shrug and shake of the head. He “could not guess” he said again. 16? I said, yet his answer stayed the same. No matter what the number, his answer remained the same. Zoe is eleven today, and in 5 years we will pass 16.
And so I push the worry away, and choose to love and love and love.
Zoe and I were making cookies as she stood alongside me in her walker, which gave her enough balance to lean in - with clumps of dough clutched in her hands to form into cookies, she confided “ I think I will need an apartment with a large kitchen, Mom-
So I have lot’s of room to bake” Before I could even process the inspiring strength of Zoe’s words, the pain in my heart, gave me away. “ Oh don’t worry,.. Mom” Zoe soothed. .. I won’t leave you right away.”
Our family love keeps blossoming and Olivia is practically a teen, living already in the body of a beautiful woman. Still a girl, she is unaware and unprepared for the power and dangers of such beauty. Cascading reddish curls,with long, graceful legs that finish her transformation. We talk about the news, celebrity gossip and sometimes even college. We talk books, boy bands and gourmet food and I try to imagine when she is gone from home, finding her way in the world without me. Will I love her enough to let her go, will I be strong enough to let her struggle?
Summer’s end has come and I am not ready to let go. I am not ready to say goodbye to afternoon movies in our family room, with bare tank top shoulders peeking out from furry cuddle blankets. The way we share big bowls of popcorn, with icy, cold lemonade, and overlapping legs and giggles. I want the summer scent of chlorine mixed with strawberry shampoo to linger longer. I will miss seeing the mess of the craft projects we began with enthusiasm and easily abandoned for ice cream cones instead. I will miss seeing library books left scattered throughout the house, tucked into the corners of comfy chairs, left open and face down on the kitchen table. I will miss finding rainbow colored flip flops, only one at a time, of course, hiding under couches and tables. I will miss lazy afternoons, when there is no hurry, when we hide from the scorching sun, and just talk or listen to Olivia’s summer Spotify playlists. I will miss my daughters’ words that stop and start, as one dreams and the other worries, bringing to me ideas that are too big for a girl to hold on her own.
I will even miss the “ I need you, MOM!” call that has come every 5 minutes since summer started. Always when I am in the bathroom, on the opposite side of the house, or when my hands are full with food or busy typing, trying to get these words to flow before I forget these moments, these simple things I want to celebrate, the wonder of it all.
Soon, I will surrender to the start of school. I will not be there to lift my daughter’s damp hair from that place on the back of her neck, where her hair tangles and heat collects. That spot, where Mother’s gently pull their daughter’s hair into a hand held ponytail, and sweetly blow sometimes, and secretly plant the lightest kiss. In that moment, every time, I am taken back to changing diapers, and the creases behind her knees, all those places to kiss, that we used to share and now are hers alone.
At school someone else will tell them to drink their water, watch their tone of voice, and eat their snack. Zoe will tell someone else when she is tired, or when her head hurts. The nurse will give her medicine and someone else will help her in and out of her wheelchair. Someone else will get to laugh at her jokes and her ability to strike a silly pose at the serious moments.
Olivia will once again lose herself, with texts and chats , shared mostly only with her friends, as she becomes captive to their concerns and opinions, settling into the schedule of school and saving sweet leftovers to share with me at the end of her day.
For now, I will I keep holding on - to my husband’s love, to my children’s love, and to the end of summer, as our family keeps growing and we get closer to goodbye.