In a little over a week, I will have two teenage daughters. Something about the younger one turning 13 feels very strange, and slightly scary. So does the fact that she rolls her eyes at me now, and I can tell when she's disappointed by the way I say or do something. Until not all that long ago, she was just openly adoring of me. Oh, well.
But it is, it's a strange new world with these young women. I feel them moving away from me. I write about this all the time because I think about it all the time. It's a sea change, and it's one that's supposed to happen, and it's been happening, and there's nothing to do but let it happen. But there's pain that comes with it.
I'm getting better at feeling negative things and just letting them be. I'm starting to see that we never just arrive a place where everything is great and happy and good and just right. Those things exist along the way, they happen every day, but along with them comes bad and worse and fucking awful, and it's all interwoven, and we just need to move through it as gracefully as we can.
It's good, or "good," or the way things are supposed to happen, or maybe not "supposed to" but simply how they do, that children get older and they start to have more of a sense of themselves in the world, and the outside world and the people in it (their friends) become more important, and their focus turns to that. They still need and love us but they want us to be their touchstone, not the center of their universe. They are currently the center of their own universe; that's what adolescence is, and this is how we grow, how we become adults.
I can remember being a teenage girl. I don't remember thinking all that much about my mother's state of mind, about her emotional life. We have a different, more distant relationship than I do with my girls, and I always felt she couldn't handle my emotions; that created a wall between us that doesn't exist in my house. But I see my daughters seeing me differently, seeing my faults and my missteps in a way they didn't used to. It's not that they judge me harshly; they are just aware of me in a different way. And that's also okay, the way it's supposed to be. But I'm wistful, too.
Those days when they hung off my neck or my arms, when all they wanted to do was be touching me. There were moments I relished but plenty more when I just wanted my space, my own body back. We still have our moments of cuddling and our walks hand-in-hand, but it's usually me who reaches out. Now I sometimes feel a stab of completely selfish pain when they'd rather hang out with their friends than with me. That's not to say they don't also sometimes text me things like "Mama, I'll spend all day with you tomorrow!" when they can tell I'm sad. Then I text back, "No worries, have fun," because I'm not trying to emotionally exhort them. (Am I?)
It's not so many years until they will be gone. I think about that a lot. Instead I should think about the fact that they are here, and how lucky am I that the care and raising of them was granted to me.
It's just strange, it's weird, being a mother, being a woman, being a human. Moving through these different seasons governed by different moods and emotions and priorities and definitions of what's good, what's right, what's supposed to be. And trying to match that with how each season makes us feel, and not feel guilty about that, about any of it, but just let it be how it will be.
I can't stop taking pictures of the sky.
For the past seven years I've been running, and it gets me outside in every season. When I get to South Mountain Reservation or Orange Reservoir (above), my two favorite places to run, I evaluate the clouds, their patterns and colors. I search out the sun. I stop for a moment to watch the movement, because the sky seems permanent, set, but it's constantly in motion.
There's something about its bigness and always-thereness. All you have to do, anywhere you are, is look up, and there it is, like the old friend who effortlessly catches you when you trip over yourself. Whether it's radiantly blue and clear or green and black with cloud, whether there are cotton balls or waves of white. Whether it's red or pink or purple or gray or blue or navy or black, there it is, and every single day it's brand new.
When I run, I lean slightly forward and gaze down. I try to remember to stay in the moment, stay in this step, not worry about what's behind or ahead. Like yoga, it's a way to move myself into the present. But I'm also in my head, in my thoughts and fears and worries, in love and in pain, alive and full, lonely and suffocated, all the things that make up a life. So to look up, to raise my eyes and tilt my head back, to let my heart move upward toward the vastness, it feels like a gorgeous respite every time.
So I take pictures. Not just on runs. Out in my front yard and through windows. From the train platform and the Target parking lot. In the city, where the sky is reflected in the glass of the buildings, and over the river where it hovers like a dream.
I stop during walks home at dusk, and I look up and try to make a frame of branches around the blue. I capture little skies that I can carry around with me, tiny reminders of the dazzle.
(I wrote this in November 2013, but I like to post it every year.)
This month used to just be the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving. I don’t know how much I ever really noticed it. Gone are the warm, vivid days of early fall; the leaves are almost all off the trees, and the wind turns colder. Before, I guess, I didn’t think there was much to see or feel about it. It was a trudge toward my favorite holiday, that day of gratitude and good food, after which it would just get cold and dark and miserable for at least three months.
Perhaps it was growing up in Chicago that made me hate the cold so much. Of course I enjoyed being out in the snow as a kid; I can remember making huge forts during some of the blizzards of my childhood. But as I got older I mostly just hurried myself from inside to inside, getting through the bitter, icy outdoors as quickly as I could. Huddling under a layer of blankets so heavy in my cold, dark bedroom that I almost couldn’t breathe. Biding my time until it got warm again and I could emerge.
Then, in November of 2003, I had a baby. It was November 5, to be exact. The day before she was born, it was warm enough that I could walk to the nail salon in my Brooklyn neighborhood in flip-flops for my last pedicure before motherhood, the leaves on the sidewalk crunching around my bare toes. A few days later, when we took her home, it was cold enough to see your breath, and I worried that the heaters in our apartment building had not yet kicked on, that she’d freeze to death.
Two years later I had another baby, this time in late November, on the 23rd—the day before Thanksgiving. She was born in Hawaii, where it was, of course, hot and sunny; her first beach day was when she was only a few days old. Then we swaddled her in blankets and got back on the plane, went home to the cold, where I could see the skeletal branches of the tree outside my bedroom window while I nursed my new daughter.
Becoming a mother made me notice the passage of time in a new way. Those early days were measured in minutes and hours, and going outside into the fresh, brisk air was a relief after being cocooned inside with a newborn, or—worse—a newborn and a toddler.
The month of things curling into themselves, moving back toward the earth to sleep, became for me the time when new life began. I took my first daughter out for long walks in her stroller, in Prospect Park; no longer did I barricade myself inside for the duration. I not only went outside; I stayed outside, for hours. I looked around me. The bare branches of the trees were sharp and angular against the sky; the leaves still clinging to them were lovely in their starkness. I noticed how the sunlight was whiter and clearer—purer—and how the breath moved more easily through my lungs. In late afternoon, the early twilight felt thrilling and heartbreaking. It often brought tears to my eyes (sometimes it still does).
November became a sacred space for me.
This year my older daughter turned 10; my younger one is almost 8. Each year I honor this month as the time I came alive to the cold seasons and saw them for what they are—a beautiful, contemplative time when the earth takes its rest.
I also honor this month as the time I became a mother, which taught me to see everything differently.