It is Sunday morning and I am in swim class with my daughter.
“We do hard things,” I tell her when she doesn’t want to submerge. “We are brave, and we do hard things.”
Advice is so much easier to give than take, and on this day, that’s truer than ever. The previous afternoon, I visited a townhouse that was 1.9 miles from my parents’ house where we have been living since Autumn was born. It was always meant as a temporary arrangement – a COVID bubble for my newborn baby, dog Tod, and me. In the beginning, it was depressing. I talked to my therapist weekly about feeling like a loser. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed in high school, and there I was, a 43-year old pregnant single woman living in the same room as when I was eight. But after Autumn was born, my sister helped me put things in perspective.
“Take the focus off you,” she said, “and look at it through your daughter’s eyes.”
She pointed out that Autumn was developing a special relationship with our mom and dad that she wouldn’t have if we lived elsewhere. And she was right. Every night, my mom rocked her during her dream feed, and every day, my dad photographed milestones. Our bedtime routine was a family affair. Papa stood by as I bathed her, and we all took turns reading bedtime stories. The sing-a-long light show was the highlight. We each held a flashlight, the beams dancing around the room mesmerizing Autumn and terrifying Tod. We sang Twinkle Twinkle, Frere Jacques, Dite Moi, and You Are My Sunshine, followed by rounds of Row Row Row Your Boat. Some nights, I wasn’t ready for the concert to end, so Somewhere Over the Rainbow became the encore. The curtain still dropped, but a precious three minutes later. To go from living with just Tod in an updated high rise in the city to taking up residence with my parents, daughter, and dog in my childhood home in the suburbs was simultaneously horrifying and incredible. Yes, society tells me I no longer belong here, but also, there’s a coziness, warmth, and security I can’t even explain. It’s a couple dozen miles away, but light years apart.
Fast forward two years and a billion memories, and we’re still here – tenants in my parents’ abode.
And then that morning, that Sunday morning, I signed a contract to place a bid on a townhouse only 1.9 miles, but again, light years away. There’s no waffle maker – the Papa or the device – for our Sunday morning treat, no piano bench for Grandma to sit on and tap away with Autumn. All those photos taken throughout the previous 22 months pop into my mind like a movie flashback, and even though they were taken with iPhones, I picture Polaroids. Click–Me holding Tod in the hallway, my 8-month pregnant belly. Click–Grandma meeting Autumn for the first time. Click–Grandma, Papa, and baby on the play mat. The images flood my brain and give me a headache, forcing out tears in the Starbucks drive-thru line.
“I don’t want to take her away from you,” I say to my mom on the phone the morning after my bid went through. But I can’t let loose because I’m on my way to work, and the mask I’m required to wear won’t conceal my broken, red eyes. So I pull myself together, and hope my emotions will cooperate, making an appearance when it’s more appropriate, when the timing is better. Because timing is crucial, and a concept difficult for me to accept. It matters so much, and I control it so little.
For most of my life, I blamed timing for things going wrong. It was timing when I met the right guy but wasn’t ready. Bad Timing, I thought, as if this human construct of years, hours, and minutes was some kind of animal who got into the garbage. Even now, my instinct is to place blame. I was hoping to get a place in several months when it’s summer, because I’m not even close to ready to move from what has become a near perfect set-up.
Because, of course, everything appears perfect once we learn it’s going away.
These days when I reflect on living with my parents, I don’t think of the lack of privacy and abundance of clutter, but instead the lack of bills and abundance of laughter. My parents and I haven’t agreed on everything – I never dress her warmly enough and always allow her to climb too high – but there is one eternal common ground. While my mom likes Hallmark movies, my dad prefers sports, and I choose documentaries, we all agree that watching Autumn is the best. She’s a live show every day, playing in one venue only.
And now that venue is changing because my brother, and society, tell me I need to start my own life with Autumn and Tod, that I need to grow up and take charge. I text Mom:
“I don’t want to grow up.”
And she responds:
“I know that feeling!!!”
I’m learning that all the things I blamed on timing were really just me, not wanting to move forward, hoping to stay young and carefree. But hoping doesn’t make things happen, and there is no reverse in the story that is my life. And so I do my best to embrace this stage – being the mom, no longer the baby – and to stop blaming timing. Because there are some things I’ll never be ready for, but I can’t let that hold me back from all the adventures that come with change. And while all good things must come to an end, all good things must also have a beginning.
Autumn went under water three times that day, because she does hard things. We do hard things, and that will make all the difference.