Occasionally, when I am putting my daughter back to sleep at 2 a.m., I put aside my exhaustion and my frustration and my overall stress from the day and I just watch her sleep. There is nothing that makes me feel more old.
When I look at her face, I see perfect, unblemished, fragile features. I trace the fall of the grey light over her wispy eyelashes, her button nose, and her soft, parted lips. She sleeps so peacefully next to me. There is not a line on her face. Not a single sign of care. No trace of the knowledge of the world.
I wonder if I ever felt so carefree. I wonder what it means to have ever been that young.
Time has left its mark not just in my memories, but on my face. I notice more lines each day. My eyes grow darker — they lose their shape. Skin sags around my neck line. Red moles (“angiomas”) appear all over my body now.
In my body and in my mind, nothing is as it was, and nothing will be as it is now again.
I look at my daughter, and I realize the same is true for her, too. Time is making its own small mark even on her body. A small freckle appears on her cheek now. She has a few more on her body. She grows taller, leaner. Her hair grows longer. Her final baby teeth make their appearance.
At once, I feel the stab of my own mortality and realize that it will be many years before she has any understanding of her own. The weight of that knowledge makes it hard to breathe. I know that I am completely powerless against this inevitable progress. I know that I am being pulled forward, whether I go willingly or not.
This seems to me to be one of the many paradoxes of life: There will never be a perfect moment. Though I am deeply moved by contemplating my daughter’s beauty and the amazing trajectory her life will surely take — simply by virtue of being the same complex and amazing life that we all lead when put in context — the weight of time hangs over me. It creates a shadow. Yet, many would say that the moment is only made sweeter by knowing its brevity.
It is hard to think of my daughter as a grown woman. I feel the soft bones still in her fingers, and I can’t imagine them gripping a steering wheel or holding a baby of her own. I see the wispy hair on her head, and I can’t imagine it long and flowing. I see the sweet, slumbering lids, and I can’t imagine the pain of knowledge that will one day reflect in her eyes.
I cannot imagine a day that she will not need me as much as she does now, but I know it will come. I know she will one day leave us. I know she will create a family of her own, and that we will become only supporting players in her life.
I wonder if she will think of us well, or if she will have some quirk to tell:
“My parents can just be a little overwhelming.”
“My mom just doesn’t really get it.”
“I love my parents, but we’re not really that close.”
I wonder if she will have fond memories of her childhood. I wonder if she will think of us as her confidantes and her advisers, or if she will think of us as bumbling and annoying parents who are an obligation.
How will she describe us to her friends? Her lovers?
Will she move away?
Will we have to beg her to come home for visits?
Will she look at my call and ignore it because she knows it’s me?
Will she willingly make us a part of her life long after she has created her own?
How will she mourn us?
Will we have to mourn her?
Thinking through all the possibilities is enough to both terrify and inspire me.
I nuzzle her closer and press my lips against her soft forehead. She doesn’t move. She is protected, loved. I hope she feels this way forever.