Today, you are nine years old. Nine years old. Nine years old.
The force of time is something that you don’t yet feel or fully understand. Time, for you, is measured in minutes and hours and days – how many more minutes until we have to leave for school, how many hours until bedtime, how many days until we go camping – and those minutes and hours and days are, for you, infinitely light. They flutter past, without weight, like butterflies or falling leaves or a light rain; they brush against your cheek and rustle your hair, but you barely notice them. They are there and not-there. They are not your reference points for life and the world and your place in it. You reference point is yourself, and you, to you, are a fixed and eternal and permanent body in the world. You, to you, are a being who never changes. You are always and infinitely you, Emilia.
You, to me, are eternal and infinite and glorious, but you are also, to me, a creature in motion, a being in flux, a body in a dance with time. Time, for me, is our reference point. You are you, but you are also the baby that you were and the young woman that you will be, and every moment is a reminder that you are always moving forward, and that every movement forward carries you away from me.
You are nine years old today. You are beautiful and amazing and extraordinary in your you-ness, but I look at you and I think, I only have you for a moment. I only have you for this moment. Because by tomorrow, you will have changed again. You will have grown taller and smarter and more beautiful and more distant from the you that I held in my arms nine years ago today. And the you who I celebrate today is distant from an even taller, even smarter, even more beautiful you that I will celebrate in the future.
You are nine years old today, which means, I think, that we are halfway through this part of our relationship, this expanse of time (this precious expanse of time) during which you are mine – my work, my responsibility, my passion. Nine years from today, you will turn eighteen, and you will be facing your future as a grown, independent you, a you who will hug me and say I’ll be FINE, Mom as you walk out the door into a world that I can’t control.
You are nine years old, and I can say no end of things about the wonder of you and the force of time in shaping and moving the wonder of you, but really, the unbearable lightness of the calendar and the clock have more to do with me than they do with you. Yes, you grow and you change but you are always you. The same light shines out of your eyes today that did when you were born. That same light will shine tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. That light won’t change. But those eyes will look further and further into the future. Those eyes will look away from me. Which is as it should be, of course. But still.
Here are some words that I wrote once (if you doubted that this letter was more for me than it is for you, this is the proof. Someday you’ll understand):
This is what is inevitable, this is what the books can’t tell you, this what no mother can escape: from the moment your child, your soul, is handed to you, whether that child has been pulled from your gut or yanked out from between your legs or flown from across the sea, whether your soul comes to you in gore or wrapped in white cotton sheets, your possession of it – of him, of her – is temporary. Mind-spinningly temporary. Every second, every heartbeat, that passes from the moment you clutch your second soul, your little soul, in your arms, takes that soul away from you. Every moment is a moment of growth, and every moment of growth loosens your grip. And you must keep holding, you must keep your arms outstretched, but you can’t, you mustn’t, fight to hold on.
This, then, is the art of motherhood, and it is not an art of the mind: to hold on and let go, at the same time.
Today you are nine years old, and I am nine years in to learning how to hold on and let go, all at the same time. It’s hard going, and I’m not sure how well the lessons are taking, but there it is. I hold you, and I let you go, and it has always been and will ever be thus.
And that’s okay.
I love you, baby. You keep growing. You’re doing it so beautifully.