<i>I wrote this a few months ago (in July 2012) as an excerpt for a friend who was writing a Kindle Book called “Last Times”. I’ve decided to include it as a blog as a reminder of these precious times. </i>
Grace will be five on Monday and somehow, the small steps between my current 4-year-old preschooler and my soon-to-be 5-year-old kindergartener seem like a vast chasm between two different lands – the land of infinite cuddles, kisses, hugs, I love you’s and the delicious peal of mirth that is the sacred bookmark of this precious age… and the land of seemingly instant independence where this sweet child of mine is suddenly making her bed, cleaning her room, taking her plates to the sink without being asked and saying things like “I can do it by myself.”
When Grace was about three and a half, an old back injury of mine flared up and carrying my preschooler became a painful and not particularly intelligent endeavor. At the same time, she suddenly wanted to be picked up ALL THE TIME. “My legs are tired” became the phrase du jour – from the kitchen to her bedroom, from the driveway to the front door, from the car park to the shop 30 feet away – we seemed to suddenly stumble upon an invisible leg zapper that kicked in after about 10 steps and which reduced my perfectly mobile and usually docile three year old to an unyielding and immoveable force of gravity.
“Please carry me,” she would plead.
“Grace, darling – I would love to carry you but you are too big for me to carry now because my back is hurt” I would respond.
“Grace, you are too big to carry and it hurts my back too much”
“But my legs hurt”
“Grace, I just told you – you are too big to carry and it hurts my back.”
“Grace – please stop asking me to carry you. The answer is no.”
And so on and so forth, ad infinitum, in the eternal looping dialogue that only a child can sustain. We seemed to have this conversation at least four times a day. Sometimes I would give in but most of the time I maintained my position and Grace would ultimately – usually after a pint-sized royal meltdown – stomp up beside me with her little arms folded angrily across her chest and her little face all bunched up in miniature fury accompanied by a sparse, smattering spillover of tears.
This scene played out over and over again for months – it felt like forever – until one day I realized she had stopped asking and I didn’t even know when that had happened.
Grace has just returned from the UK, where she spent two weeks visiting her grandparents with her father. For the two weeks she was gone, I roamed back and forth across my house like a restless caged lioness, waiting for my cub to come home. I kept looking in her bedroom, as if she might suddenly materialize from space – willing her to be beamed up from Buckingham Palace – and sleeping with her plush bunny rabbit hugged tightly to my chest through the night to have something of her close to me. I missed her with such fierce longing and intensity that sometimes I just wanted to kneel down and wail.
Finally, after two endless weeks, my little girl came home and when I saw her, I ran to her and swooped her up in my arms whooping with delight. I just wanted to smother her with love and kisses and never let her go again. She giggled and laughed and then abruptly, in a calm and quiet voice said, “Mummy, please put me down”. I looked at her with surprise but did as she asked and reluctantly put her down and then knelt beside her with my hands on her arms and asked, “Grace, what’s the matter sweetheart?”
She took a step in towards me and then tenderly stroked my cheek as she fixed her big wide blue eyes on mine with a look of total and unadulterated love and she said, “Mummy, I’m too big for you to carry and it hurts your back too much”.
Had I had so much as even contemplated what the pain of that gentle and compassionate rebuff might feel like in all those times she had pleaded with me to carry her, I would have gladly suffered a broken back to hold my daughter in my arms every time she asked, for as long as she wanted.
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as she continued to stroke my cheek and I hugged her close to me so she wouldn’t see that a part of me had just ruptured.
Later that day, we went to the shops and I must confess that I deliberately parked in the farthest possible space and then proceeded to take her from one end of the mall to the other, running errands (that truly did need to be done). Eventually she said, “Mummy, can we sit down for a little while? My legs are a tiny bit tired.” “Gracie,” I responded “Would it be okay if I carried you? My back’s better now and no matter how big you get, you will always be my little girl.” She looked at me with those amazing blue eyes of hers and furrowed her little brow in concern and asked, “Are you sure, Mummy?” “I am absolutely positive, my darling,” with barely contained delight. “Ok,” she said tentatively, “but just for a little bit and then I’ll walk again so you don’t have to carry me.” “Ok,” I said, hoping she would let me carry her all the way back to the car. I picked her up and cradled her to my chest – breathing in her wonder and her innocence and her trust, inhaling her child-like scent and brushing her cheek against mine, savoring the moment and finally appreciating the true sacredness of this fleeting time.
We’re having Grace’s 5th birthday party tomorrow and I’ve decided that I might park the car a few blocks away from the venue. In fact, I think I’m going to make a habit of parking the car just that bit further away, just in case Grace’s legs get tired and she might agree to let me carry her.