An endless alleluia and a constant goodbye

I know I write all the time about the powerful and perilous ways that Grace reminds me of myself, about how she seems to have a core of sensitivity, emotion, insecurity, and sentimentality running through her that I intimately recognize. Similarly, I’ve written before of Whit’s predilection towards lightness, his surprising humor, his lack of instinctive subservience to authority. I wouldn’t blame any of you for feeling I’m a one-note violin on this score.

Never let it be said, however, that these children rest in their neat categories. Tonight, after reading several pages of Star Wars Heroes (another post: the Jedi emphasis on controlling your emotions – I’m fascinated that this may be taking real hold of the minds of our young boys, given the wild passion for Star Wars), I tucked Whit into bed. He was unusually clingy, consenting to snuggle in my lap while I rocked him, listening to a lullabye, a tradition that is all but gone now. I kissed him good night and went downstairs to read Harry Potter to Grace.

A page or two into the terrifying scene at the Quidditch World Cup where the Dark Mark hovers over the eerie forest (Grace: “Mummy! I’m scared! Can I hold on?” = her gripping my upper arm with two hands, so hard she left white finger marks) I heard Whit’s door open and his snuffling, tearful voice. “Mummy?” he called plaintively. “Yes, Whit?” “I’m sad.” I asked Grace if it was OK for me to go check on her brother and (surprisingly) she agreed easily.

Whit was in the bathroom. Looking at the floor, he kicked at the tile by the tub idly. He said, without looking at me, “I don’t want to talk about it.” “Oh, Whit, please?” He looked at me and dissolved into more tears. I picked him up and carried him back to the rocker. He was limp in my arms, his tearful face nestled wetly against my neck.

“Whitty, what’s wrong?” He was crying hard, speaking in short bursts between his hiccupy sobs. “I don’t want to be a kid, Mummy. It’s hard to be a kid.” “I know, sweetheart, I know.” “Mummy, I want to be a baby still.” We launched into a fairly detailed conversation about how he didn’t want to grow up and it was all going too fast and he wanted to still be a baby and be carried around. I was somewhere between shocked and blown away. Has he been reading my blog? Reading my mind?

Grace tiptoed into Whit’s room and he let her come over and stroke his hair back from his forehead. He looked right at her and told her why he was sad. “Oh, Whit, I know that feeling. I get sad about that too,” she said sincerely. What? Do my children feel the same contraction and expansion in their chests that I do, that same echoing sadness that seems to pulse with the closing of each moment?

I thought about how their bodies seem to be longer and leaner every single day; a similar growth must be happening in their hearts and spirits. That growth, sudden, overwhelming, must be scary and disorienting. I thought fiercely: I always want them to be able to talk to me about this.

Blinking back my own tears, I took the children on a quick tour through their babyhoods. I showed them the tiny hats they had each worn in the hospital, the doll-sized newborn diapers (I saved a couple of clean ones), the plastic bracelet I wore during each labor & delivery stay. Whit dug deep into his sock drawer to unearth a pair of 3-6 month socks with robots all over them. “These were mine, right, Mummy?” he asked urgently. He wore them to bed tonight.

We then went to the family room and leafed through the two photo albums that covered the first nine months of Whit’s life. He alternated between giggling and crying as we pored over the pictures. One in particular, of him lying on the floor, curled up, asleep, still a newborn, he exclaimed, “I think that’s on this very rug, Mummy!” He was right. He looked at the rug with an expression in his eyes that I recognized deeply: this place, here, was there, then, and it’s here now, and it’s the same and yet not… where did that moment go? Is it here?  How could it not be here?

We talked some about how it is normal to feel sad sometimes about things that are over. About how it is hard to be a kid. Also, about the things that they can do now that they couldn’t when they were babies (Storyland, playdates, pizza, scootering, TV). Whit wisely said, “But I didn’t know about those things then, so I didn’t care that I couldn’t do them.” Hard to argue with that.

I finally got both my children settled and on their way to sleep, but now I sit here, lost in memories of those years of new babies and new horizons. I was a different person then, something I was reminded of when I saw the pictures with Whit as a newborn. I’m aware, as I am often, of the ways that minutes and hours and days add up to years, but with very irregular contents. The days stretch like taffy, sagging in the middle, the moments crystallize like glittering gems, the years pile up haphazardly, and what is built is a life.

Parenting – life itself! – is an endless alleluia* and a constant goodbye.

And, I am 100% biased, but I admit that tonight’s little exercise reminded me of how utterly adorable I thought Whit was as a baby.

*attribution to Newman and Hank for the best Christmas card message ever.

16 thoughts on “An endless alleluia and a constant goodbye”

  1. First of all YES he is an ADORABLE baby.
    And wow–what a conversation to have with your two little ones. I love the way you put it toward the end: “The days stretch like taffy, sagging in the middle, the moments crystallize like glittering gems, the years pile up haphazardly, and what is built is a life.”

  2. Lindsay, I have no words. How utterly amazing that you had this moment with your children. Truly. These are the moments that make a difference.

    And I understand you so completely it’s scary.

  3. Beautifully put. What a wonderful evening with your children, and how gracefully you helped them navigate through this important childhood moment.

  4. Oh, this tugs at my heart. Interestingly, I just typed out something slightly similar to post later this week. We’re both going down memory lane at the same time. I love that it was your kids who sparked it, though.

  5. I think this must be my all-time favorite post of yours. Moments like this are both heartbreaking and glorious. As adults we are so prone to stop and commemorate (or mourn) the passage of time. It would be so easy to assume that kids, bouyed by their youth, wouldn’t do the same. But they do. Change is hard at every age. A truly touching post.

  6. Just wow. I am in awe of how you mirror them… being a kid is not easy, but it is easier with a mom who takes the time to truly see.

  7. Wow. Lindsey, you have outdone yourself with this post. I had to shut my office door because I’m tearing up. “Life is an endless alleluia!” Beautiful.

    And your little boy is just precious. Thank you for this post!! – Amy

  8. Whit’s good looks obviously began in his babyhood!

    Just last week, and sounding very much like a wizened ex-con, Big Boy told me that he wanted to climb back inside my tummy because “life is hard on the outside.” It sounds like he and Whit should get together for some philosophical brooding. Meanwhile, you and I can shake our heads, and raise as glass to Gretchen Rubin’s adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.”


  9. What a great way to put it — an endless alleluia and a constant goodby. So incredibly true.

    This mom, with a high school graduation of her little one behind her, says it’s still true!

  10. This brought tears to my eyes! Oh, how delicious is your family!

    I must admit, I do not have memories of being sad when I was a child about the days gone by. Instead, I was sad that I was STILL a child, that I wasn’t an adult yet, more in control of my life. (HA!) I’ve carried that obsession with the potential for a better future over the joys of the present for far too long.

    You handled this moment with your children so beautifully. And it is such a testament to how safe they feel as children, with you as their guide, for them to a) have that type of sadness, b) be conscious of it and c) communicate it to you. Kudos.

  11. Hold on. I’ve gotta wipe away all these tears.

    Ok. So powerful. So poignant. So…amazing that Whit was able to articulate his emotions so eloquently. (That apple clearly fell off of your tree.)

    Eyes still welling. xoxo

  12. What a gorgeous post. And what amazing children you have! So often I wonder if I want another–lots of complicated issues that may get in the way of having a second–but this post made me want just one more. Thanks for the beauty of your writing and your parenting.

  13. Lindsey, I have nothing more (or less) to say than this: You are a staggeringly beautiful writer, a staggeringly beautiful mother, a staggeringly beautiful woman.

    OK…one more thing: Grace and Whit are deeply blessed to have you, as are each of us who read your words and allow them to wash over us, imbue our very souls, and change our lives.

    Staggeringly beautiful.

  14. Baby steps, isn’t it? For us as parents, as well as for our children.

    You said it perfectly,
    “Parenting – life itself! – is an endless alleluia* and a constant goodbye.”

  15. Your children are so incredibly lucky to have you…to have a mother who gets it, and will always be there to talk about it, and remind them that they are not alone in those thoughts!

  16. “But I didn’t know about those things then, so I didn’t care that I couldn’t do them.” Truer words never spoken. With new eyes sometimes comes a bit of a burden. I understand the sensation of taffy.

    Lovely. Just lovely.

    I especially love the rug aha and wearing the socks. These are the altared spaces of your life. So cool you’ve given them to Whit with such ceremony so he could see himself so clearly.

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