they grow up soon enough

January 15th, 2012

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.

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  1. Thank you. One of my favorite sections. It seems that every time I do laundry something gets put in the giveaway or “will there be a 3rd?” pile. It makes me misty eyed and grateful for what we have at the same time.

    With Z I was expecting so much, every milestone. With Bodhi I have really learned to better pay attention to what he is doing and not what he is “supposed” to be doing. I am grateful you taught me that.

    Comment by Nichole — January 15, 2012 @ 8:02 pm

  2. I’m about to drop off my youngest at preschool in an hour: the first morning without both my baby boys éver… A new phase is at my doorstep and your words make the transition a tiny bit easier (and yes, the baby bouncer is stored safely here too ;-))

    Comment by Roos — January 15, 2012 @ 10:58 pm

  3. Yes. I was hoping for a third. Looks like she/he is not coming. Such a wonderful time of life goes so quickly. Lots of tears, lots of tears.

    Comment by Sue — January 15, 2012 @ 11:32 pm

  4. Last night, my wife asked our four year old “what was your favorite part of today?” she said “it was all wonderful.” Nothing could be improved. Not when her dad shouted at her, not when nobody would read her a story but we told her to go and play by herself, not when she tripped and fell. For her, it was all perfect. I can’t think of a better example of enlightenment 🙂 My four year old and my seven month old are the best teachers in my life. How blessed I am! Your piece reminds me of that. thanks 🙂

    Comment by Paul Brennan — January 16, 2012 @ 6:02 am

  5. This sentence: “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.” is one I have tried to articulate for almost seven years now (my firstborn is turning seven in March). I have almost driven myself mad trying to hold on to Life, hold on to this time, hold onto my children as they are right now, but my hands are cupped under a surging faucet, trying to capture and hold, but the water keeps running through my fingers, spilling over, and it is the saddest part of the biggest blessing in my life. Sigh. Life…

    Comment by Janna — January 16, 2012 @ 7:32 am

  6. Amen, amen, amen. My children are all adults now and I have 5 grandchildren–the river flows so steadily, no matter what. Thank you.


    Comment by Angel C. — January 16, 2012 @ 9:13 am

  7. My dear sweet lady, you have made me cry and sigh deeply all at the same time. I think I may need to read this over and over, as I sit hear and marvel at the wondrousness that are my constantly changing soon to be 3yo and 5 1/2 year old. I am so much better at being today than I was when they were first born, and yet, as you say, it just continues to roll along. Quicker than I could have ever imagined.

    Comment by Christine @ Coffees & Commutes — January 16, 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  8. Oh Maezen you just nail this. Yesterday, I was thinking about a sweet summer memory, when Jack sang to me from the kayak as I swam across a lake with him paddling alongside in case I got winded. I wrote to him, just to say how happy it made me to remember that day. His response: “don’t put it in a book.” I wonder if you still have that bouncer chair in a closet. I wonder how much you forget that Georgia remembers. I wonder how you got so wise. Love you! xo k

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — January 16, 2012 @ 6:02 pm

  9. Thank you very much for posting this excerpt. It’s funny what a new bed will do: We set up G’s new big boy bed this weekend which caused a lot of waves for all (like your bouncy chair, we all loved his crib, and he would settle in to it with the biggest sigh of pleasure and relaxation). He just wouldn’t let me take a break on Sunday so I basically yelled, and his face just crumpled in to tears. You know that realization when the craziness of parenting breaks like the clouds after a storm and the sun shines through and you understand all they really are asking for is kindness and love and when they get a little of that they will be fine? It was a terrible moment though. I just hugged him. I will never forget it – seared in to my being. The beauty of children is their absolute openness, their lack of cynicism, barriers, protection etc. The need for pure love they show us – what a gift.

    Comment by Jen — January 16, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  10. thanks for this. 🙂 I love it.

    Comment by Meghan — January 17, 2012 @ 4:09 am

  11. Karen, I just did this very same thing! My two girls (12 and 10)asking for the opportunity to choose their own rooms…spending a full day clearing it all out, sorting, letting go. And then shopping for replacements for furniture that was fine as it was. It is always forward motion…we roll with it as best we can! There is always more letting go to do. My challenge will continue to be to jump into the next moment and love it too…

    Comment by Kirsten — January 17, 2012 @ 3:32 pm

  12. I have clung so tightly to the past, nearly paralzyed, that only recently have I begun to loosen the death grip and accept that holding on won’t bring back, won’t correct mistakes or enhance any pleasantries. Holding on has kept me from this beautiful moment and so, as much as I long for the Emmaljunga buggy to still be stored in the attic (and admittedly I am slightly envious of your ability to choose one precious thing to keep,) I am grateful to be free, finally, to embrace the gift of this moment.

    Comment by MJ — January 17, 2012 @ 4:44 pm

  13. Oh, here I go again! From your post and the comments I am now trying to write a reply through my tears. These are the reasons why I was first drawn to buddhism – to try to learn ‘this very moment’. It is still my daily pradctice to remember this.
    Thank you, thank you, all.

    Comment by Judith Smith — January 18, 2012 @ 7:12 am

  14. I visited your blog today…it has been awhile since I last visited. I must have known you would give me exactly what I needed. Still amazes me when it happens though. Thank you again and again and again! With love, Cindy

    Comment by Cindy — January 18, 2012 @ 7:36 am

  15. […] if this post isn’t enough, go to The Wise One and she’ll really explain it […]

    Pingback by Honor Family Links {show love edition} « Awesomely Awake — January 19, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

  16. Gah. Thank you. This is just what I needed.

    Comment by Pamela — March 13, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

  17. […] ever forget that day. Her first birthday is in 9 days and I was pretty chill about it all until I read this. And now I’m an emotional mess. Not really, but it definitely got me thinking about how easy […]

    Pingback by Mi Vida Contigo » Some Favourites — March 14, 2012 @ 2:23 pm

  18. Brilliant, thanks.

    Comment by Paul — March 15, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

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