I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the passage of time, in these weeks leading up to July 7th, when my first-born, Lizzie, will be getting married. I know I’ve written about this before, but did I mention how hard it is for me to believe that the baby girl who came struggling into the world after 30 hours of labor, breaking her collar bone on the way, is old enough to get married? Did I happen to say how it makes me feel like I must have stepped into a time machine and swooshed through several decades, landing, almost without breathing, in the present? After all, if it came right down to it, and I had to describe my own awareness of time, I’d have to say that it seems—really—like only a few years ago, ten at the most, that she was little. There is no way—absolutely none—that she could really be twenty-four, due to turn twenty-five a week after her wedding!
I keep having this weird feeling, where I kind of expect her to finish this game she’s been playing. After all, when she was five years old, she loved to pretend that she was a singing and dancing Senorita named Conchita, and she had a father named Miguel, so maybe this whole wedding deal is really just another one of her fantasies, after all. It could happen!
The weirdest part is I can remember when she was a baby—when I was doing a lot of nursing and rocking and diaper-changing. And I can remember the most recent five years. But I really can’t remember too clearly, except in a vague, fog-brain sort of way, the years in between. All I know is that they involved lots of Halloween costumes, lost permission slips, and school supplies that required frantic trips to K-Mart at five minutes before closing.
I have something to say to new parents: write everything down that you can—because, believe it or not, no matter how fresh it all seems now, there will come a day when you can’t remember the stuff your child said or did at 2 or 4 or 10. If, like me, you have more than two children, and if you are lucky enough to have a few cute stories still in your head, you may even have trouble sorting out which cute story belongs to which child! But, no matter what, there will be a few memories that won’t quit. And some of those came up tonight—as I sat here, drowning in my proverbial beer—and wishing I could stop time in its rotten tracks.
For instance, I remember vividly when Lizzie said her first word, pointing to a vase on the table of a little neighborhood restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee and saying “Flou–ah.” I remember one of the first times we took her to church—since we were sadly negligent, she was 3 years old—and she looked up at the cross over the altar and said, “Mama, why is there a “T” up there?” And I can really get blubbery when I think about the time she was tested for Kindergarten “readiness” and asked by the principal to say the letters “ABCDE.” She whizzed right through that part. “Now say them backwards,” he said, at which Lizzie turned her back to the poor dumb fool and said, “ABCDE” again!
Finally, I keep thinking about the way, at four or five, she loved to sing the story of her life—and mine—as she came down the stairs in the morning: “Now I’m walking down the stairs, and my Mama’s in the kitchen, and she’s cooking me some food,” she would sing, “and I’m happy happy happy ”—all to her own, made up tune.
I’ll stop, before I get maudlin. I just warn all of you out there who haven’t experienced it yet: this wedding business is no piece of cake. But the stress of planning a wedding doesn’t come only from all the details that are involved. And it doesn’t even come from the worry that you won’t look good in your mother-of-the-bride dress (although that is one of the more difficult parts).
And, finally, if you are really lucky—as we are—it doesn’t come from worry about your new son-in-law, who, in our case, is a sweet and wonderful guy. Nope. What really gets you, in the end, is realizing that, maybe for the first time since that baby came into your life, she really is actually walking out that door, on her own, into a place where you are no longer needed, in any sort of absolute, parental duty sort of way. To all intents and purposes, she is actually choosing to be on her own now, living in her own, brand-new little family. Partly, that makes you want to bust with happiness for her. And partly, it just makes you feel a little worn out by the shock of arriving so quickly at the end of this particular road you thought you were going to be running on forever.
I guess, if we are lucky, this exciting new life of hers will occasionally involve her “aged P’s”—the term my mother stole from Dickens to describe herself and my father and which I now proudly give to myself and my husband—but, still, in the back of my mind, there is that clincher: from now on, it is no longer our shared life story that Lizzie will be singing.