Candles In The Wind
People who give birth are creators of both life and death. To watch your child grow is to witness them age; with aging invariably comes demise. Its OK to acknowledge that. In fact, all of the progress I have made within my own mind and spirit over the last decade stems from my willingness to accept that death is the final stage of growth.
I’m a person who keeps up with the daily jotting down of mundane happenings, like what our family ate, or did, or saw. I enjoy doing it, and I love imagining how rewarding it will feel when my child reads these notes in the years ahead: a play-by-play of everything that happened every day of his life, from his mom’s slightly skewed, but earnestly objective perspective.
I choke up just imagining myself re-reading these tidbits of life with a seven-year-old. It’s the reason I don’t often watch home videos or look at photos I’ve taken longer than two or three weeks ago. Anything that happened longer ago than yesterday, really, is almost painfully nostalgic. Heart-wrenchingly sentimental. To hear my child’s voice, recorded just a year ago, hurts. He sounds startlingly small, light; fragile.
Our pasts are simply memories, and our futures only exist in our imaginations. And thus sometimes, the present - the only reality we truly experience - feels like grief.
"In fact, there is good reason to think that the phenomenal sense of self was initially constructed in the early stages of the child’s life through interaction with parents or other caretakers. This is perhaps why we cannot remember what it was to be an infant, why episodic memory seems to begin at early childhood." ~What Kind Of An Illusion Is The Illusion Of Self?
The thing that we all love about babies is that they grow. In fact, that is literally the one unifying factor shared by all babies: they are constantly growing. And growth means change. Daily, nightly, weekly, monthly, minute-by-minute change. That’s what we love about kids; not only witnessing, but also partaking in those milestones. Helping them along the way: coaxing their first smiles by showing them our own smiles; cheering when they first brush their own teeth alongside of us. Holding my son’s hand every day of his life for the last seven years feels - especially when he inevitably lets go - simultaneously like change and stability; joy and grief.
When I see myself in a mirror, I like how I look. It’s been that way for years - my apparently healthy level of self-assuredness - but it hasn’t always been there. The irony of hitting middle age and starting to worry about how much time I have left (read: how much time has already passed) while still thinking I look pretty damned good is not lost on me.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was pathologically insecure about every facet of my identity, from my social class, to my height, to my level of intelligence. I’m poor. I’m not ambitious enough. I’m too shy. Most of the crippling insecurities that stalked me during those brief decades of my youth have been trampled by my realizations that, first - none of it matters, and second - I have achieved peak performance as far as my physical body goes. It won’t get much better than it is right now.
When I think back to how unforgiving I was to my younger incarnation, it’s surprising that I find myself attractive. One of life’s unexpected developments. And yet, it’s happening at the exact same time that I am noticing the first blatant physical signs of aging.
The skin on my neck is looking slightly tissue-paper crinkly. When did that happen? I only noticed it today. About a year ago it was the sudden appearance of similarly gauze-textured tiny spots on the skin atop my hands that caught my eye. The spots appeared to be, I noticed in horror, something strikingly akin to liver spots I’d always seen on the hands of much, much older people.
I’d never considered how that process starts. You don’t just wake up one day with large brown splotches on the backs of your hands; they must grow, slowly over time. I noticed my first grey hairs several years ago, well into my thirties. I’d somehow made it decades without any sign of the early onset grey that was so common on my mother’s side of the family. I grew overconfident to the point of thinking that maybe my hair might just retain its pigmentation forever. Maybe I’d never develop chronic aches and pains, and new, mysterious fleeting ailments. Maybe I would just miraculously look and feel young … forever.
Watching yourself age is heartbreakingly beautiful, like witnessing the slow death of a beloved backyard tree. It is also just plain heartbreaking. Watching your child grow older is infinitely more so. Babies might always be growing, but all of us, at every age, are constantly getting older. We are always the youngest we’ve ever been, and that niggling sensation of the fleeting nature of youth is the variety of grief I’ve been contemplating over the last several years.
Grief is a privilege because getting older is a privilege; because loving someone is a privilege; because possessing the time and capacity to name these feelings is a privilege unto itself.
Candles flicker in the wind not because they want to, but simply because they have no choice. A tiny flame can be extinguished at any moment by a mere gentle exhalation of breath. Such is the delicate nature of existence; of mine, of yours, of our children’s. To look away from our children for even a second sometimes feels downright treacherous.
People who give birth are creators of both life and death. To watch your child grow is to witness them age; with aging inevitably comes demise. Its OK to acknowledge that. In fact, all of the progress I have made within my own mind and spirit over the last decade and a half stems from my willingness to accept that death is the final stage of growth.
That doesn’t make it any easier to feel yourself slowly die, or to watch your child effectively take steps toward the end of their life. Accepting it just makes it better. Calmer. Just as tearful, but ultimately, less terrifying.
As a mother, I feel like the guardian of an eternal flame. To keep careful watch and keep it fueled – aglow – is my sacred, joyful, agonizing mission. I know I will take its risks and rewards seriously, forever.
Unlike youth, a parent’s loving devotion need never fade away.
You nailed it! I can attest as a much older parent that watching your child and yourself age is a privilege.I look at those liver spots on the back of my hands and smile , it is years of love, living, joy, tears and memories. I look at my children and see grown men but still see those sweet babies and cherish the memories. You’ve got it right. ❤️