“Do you miss it, Mama? Do you miss when we were little and climbing all over you and Daddy and laughing like that?”
It is Thursday night, and we, just the two of us, are at the Patriotic Pops celebration, a warm-up concert for the holiday weekend. The night is unseasonably cool, hinting of a storm. We’re sprawled on chairs and picnic blankets across the grass bowl that surrounds an amphitheater, so many of us that there’s no telling, really, where one family ends and the next begins. Adjacent to our encampment are a young couple and their daughter, who is three or four, the age when parents’ shoulders and bellies and knees make the most marvelous jungle gym. She is spilling with laughter that bubbles over the top of her daddy’s head and into the breeze around us.
“I think that little girl’s daddy founded Goofball Island, too,” I say, instead of answering the question my daughter has asked. Goofball Island is our new favorite private joke, private because we are keeping Inside Out to ourselves for now, a highlight from the week when my girl had me all to herself, when her brother was still away at camp.
I remember the exact moment when I knew I did not ever want to have another baby. We were at a Christmas party, and a friend walked in, carrier in hand, holding her surprise 4th child. I looked at her and felt deep-seated recognition that my world was sufficiently full. Swaddling infants and teetering through toddlerhood were old files, closed to make way for mastering bicycles and cursive handwriting.
What my daughter meant with her inquiry, of course, was did I mourn the absence of those earlier moments, their disappearance into the past. These days she is clinically curious about how I feel. Once she was a gigglebox; now she is a microscope, assessing her world in detail. Soon she will be something new again. Each of these iterations is a flavor that I know will, in time, become only a faint aftertaste, if that.
How will I explain to her that those slivers of her childhood were like daylily blooms and orgasms and holiday fireworks, not meant to last an eternity or ever repeat in precise duplication. What words will help her understand that my smiling at a stranger’s young child doesn’t mean I would choose those days over these? I wonder if she can know that our long afternoon walks, that listening to her talk about The Mysterious Benedict Society, that picking out rain boots for camp, that every morsel of what is happening now is just as delicious as that four-year-old laughter. I wonder if she, too, will someday cherish the fleeting impermanence, the trickle of rain seasoning 4th of July parade, the butterflies that stir at the sound of her voice.