I told all the stars above
I’m gonna shower you with my love
I won’t demand you
I’ll try to understand you
My love is as free as a dove.
–Lucinda Williams, Sharp Cutting Wings (Song to A Poet)
Standing side by side, she is fast approaching my own height now on legs a darkened brown from sun and longer since the summer; a season’s worth of inches grown in quick time and days. She is almost eleven – my first baby, who came fast into this world with deep black eyes and silken hair of soft feathered petals that framed her little features on that white November morning, off in the distance of another time; when we were both just beginning. Soft and settled and warm in borrowed woolens, calm and quiet and heavy in my arms. She is tall for her age and has always seemed older than her years. I have often wondered whether it is her nature alone – or a learned trait, a means of adapting to her first years surroundings. The young separation between her father and I begged for a resiliency that came early on and seemed to bring a maturity to her sooner than I wished. Leaving me with a weighted longing for her childhood to linger on like the last hazy days of her ten year old summer; spent with dirty toes in cold river water and her hair an afterthought, an oblivious knot.
As a mother I am grasping at the hardest phase I’ve faced and I can feel it in my faltering, and taste it in the salt of her fighting words that sting. There is a small, but constant aching left in the wake of her growing and changing and walking alone to the bus stop in the morning with confidence, and without hesitation. And me, with tears in my eyes on the first of the school year and bare feet in the kitchen at 7 am. She’ll turn, laughing and insistent that there is no need to watch her go, but still I lean against the doorframe on these cold October mornings till she safely rounds the corner there, at the end of our street. With nine years in between my girls, it is easy to notice the differences in our most familiar moments. I am suddenly aware of how often I pick up my littler one, of the way I hug her a hundred times in an hour and kiss her a thousand times in a day. She, still basking in the ease of my embrace as a cure for every single sadness and my touch – the one trusted tincture for any kind of pain. But my older daughter’s is a different type of needing – a yearning of a more emotional and less tangible kind. It pushes at my patience when she creates a distance and often turns a mirror to my own stubborn habits and introverted ways. And when she tells me of her heartaches, there is no easy answer. I only want to hold her close and whisper, don’t ever change your nature, and wrap her in an iron strong yet still delicate and permeable veil, wishing for her a thicker skin than the one I wear. Wishing on a way, to safeguard the fault planes of her heart and precious confidence.
Oh bittersweet Eleven: Sweet girl in middle school, in the middle of things. When I rise first to wake her in the quiet dim of dawn, where night meets morning she still seems so small. Curled in covers soundly sleeping. Invisible beneath her, her sharp cutting wings.