When she was little-not more than two- she was obsessed with a silky yellow and black polka dot swimsuit. It wasn’t a bikini- I shied away from the ‘Toddlers and Tiaras‘ set-instead, it was an adorable one piece tank style suit with an simple little ruffle that covered her rump.
Like many little girls, she wore and wore that suit until it climbed up too high and I had to convince her that it fit better on her stuffed bear, Rosie. Carefully I placed Rosie’s long, spindly legs and arms through the swimsuit and tied a knot just below her neckline to keep it secure. She was happy with the arrangement, and snuggled Rosie gently every night as she fell asleep.
Now, fourteen years later and several sizes larger, that memory surfaced as I was hanging up her lime green American Eagle string bikini after a night of hot tubbing with her friends. I’ve given up the battle over skin bearing suits, and trust her sense of modesty and self-confidence. Gone are the silver sparkle sneakers, the bows and headbands, and all the other innocent childhood fashions that kept her young forever.
Where has it gone?
I remember thinking that I could never survive the end of her childhood, sure that each subsequent stage couldn’t possible replace the absolute beauty of the one before. Gently I filled my pine wedding box with scraps of artwork, certificates and letters written in her childish hand. I tucked away unused diapers, baby socks and her favorite pair of red overalls, just to justify that she really was once that small. Photos, videos and journals fill boxes in my armoire as testaments to each moment, each step towards the moment I’m fearing the most right now: the one when she leaves.
She herself is hardly the sentimental type. Left to her, the memories would stay locked up inside, no tangible proof of the time she moved up from guppy to turtle in swimming lessons, or the little Colombian clothespin doll she created in honor of her great-grandmother’s heritage. Birthday cards, tied with ribbon, and letters that she wrote to ‘Jen’ professing her love mingle with newspaper clippings from gymnastic meets and ski races.
I can hardly bear to open the box right now. In fact, I can hardly write about it with my eyes tearing up with an overwhelming sense of absolute and overpowering love, tinged with a touch of sadness.
But I won’t let myself go there right now. Twelve months from now, when decisions are made, deposits placed, and the calendar ticks down to the remaining summer at home-maybe then I’ll crack it open and begin the process of unwrapping the last 18 years we’ve spent together.
Is this the way childhood is supposed to end? Bits and pieces of memories, tied together with love and tears, helping me to hold onto motherhood as I watch her grow up and away?
Is this how the Universe eases my grief? Squirreling away scraps and fragments of times joyous in the moment, melancholy in the past?
I’m fairly certain she has no idea the lengths I’ve gone to in keeping these moments alive and untouchable. But the one memory I don’t hold onto is Rosie. She was never willing to give her up, and although long removed from under her covers, she resides somewhere close to her heart.
Maybe the time will come, twelve-or-so months from now, when she will reappear, and give me something to cling to, something to ease my grief, something to symbolize the love we created in her childhood. Until then, I’ll continue preserving her scraps of childhood, bit by bit.