We spent the day emptying drawers, sorting “keep” or “go,” hauling bags of trash and giveaways, swiping piles of dust. My husband and I have relented to buying my daughter a new bed, a bed entirely of her choosing, to match her self-image and sensibilities, a “teen” bed which will endure as the last blasted bed we buy her. It delivers tomorrow, and so today we cleaned out her room, meaning we cleaned out the most beloved 12 years of our lives. A day like this reminds me that all days are like this. I can’t say it any better than I did in Momma Zen:
“Form is emptiness,” Buddhism teaches. “And emptiness is form.” What could it possibly mean? It means this. It means I cried on the night of Georgia’s first birthday.
The bakery cake was ugly. She bawled in bewilderment at the crowd around the table. The presents didn’t interest her. She fled my arms to the cuddles of her babysitter. My shame was complete, but it was something else that brought me to tears. It was the finality. My baby was done with her first year. And despite my hurry, I was not. I had chosen this night to box up her baby clothes, refolding the tiny come-home things, sobbing at the poop and spit-up stains. They were already relics. How could it be over?
People will tell you so many things, passing on their hindsight and regrets. Love them when they are little. Cherish the early days. I would say it all again but I’m not sure you can hear it until you reach the other side, open your eyes and let the tears of recognition come. There is not one piece of life that you can grasp, contain or keep, not even the life you created and hold right now in your arms. I confess I never tried to slow it down, ever pushing forward to some imagined place of competence for me and independence for her. On this night, though, I could see how fast it all would go. How fast, how sad. Every happy day brimming with bittersweetness.
This is how it passes: no matter where we are we think of someplace else. The place before nighttime feedings, the place beyond twelve-a-day-diapers, the certain bliss that beckons from a distant shore. This is how we spend our lives; this is how we spend their lives, motoring past milestones as if collecting so many merit badges.
We can be forgiven for this tendency, in part, because childhood is full of tests and measures, percentiles and comparisons. Bring your baby to the doctor’s office and they will plot her as a dot on a growth chart. I inscribed these glyphs dutifully on my calendar – how many pounds now, how many inches now – satisfied that we were safely on course to get somewhere. Where is that somewhere? Where is that place that I can relax the tension on the reins, ease off the accelerator?
Not one bit of life is a weight or a measure, a list or a date, a tick or a tock. It is never a result or an outcome. What it is, is a continual marvel, a wondrous flow without distance or gap, a perpetual stream in which we bob and float. We are buffered from nothing and yet never quite fully immersed because our thinking mind keeps eyeing the banks, gauging the current, scoping for landmarks and striving for some kind of perfect, elusive destination. There isn’t a destination. Life keeps going. It keeps going within us; when we’re not attentive, it keeps going without us.
Treat this as a race and you will get ahead of yourself. Life has its own perpetual motion and yet we think we need to rev the engine. What can I do, you will think, to get her to eat more cry less sleep all night take solids roll over sit up start crawling wave bye-bye start walking stop falling hold a cup start talking feed herself start playgroup potty train eat more cry less sleep all night start preschool make friends share toys run hop ride a bike draw write read use prepositions eat more cry less sleep all night? And if there’s nothing I can do to make it happen sooner, why is that kid over there doing it already?
There is a compartment above our hall closet, a compartment that is never opened. Inside is our daughter’s bouncer chair. A bouncer chair is a kind of rocking sling that will serve you for a sliver of time that is dense with sentiment and yet for me now is completely indistinguishable and forgotten. I cannot recall when in her first year she outgrew her chair, but she did, and apparently we didn’t. Many, many things from her past have been handed down or sold, but this one was too important to her parents. We made a special point of putting it in a special place where we will keep it forever and never see it again. What you keep does not keep. Form is emptiness.