My children returned to school last week, and there was a moment—one that nobody but me noticed. The kids at our bus stop were scrambling onto the bus, darting down the aisle to find a seat, and my son and daughter were the last to walk up the stairs.
“Hey!” my husband yelled, iPhone poised to take one last photo. They turned around and my daughter had what I call the “smile of fear.” In the photo, you can see she is looking off camera—at me. My husband snapped the picture, and she turned back around and was gone.
The other parents left the bus stop, and my husband and I headed home. What I wanted to do was grab my stomach and howl, to drop to the ground and cry hysterically. But I kept walking in silence. I couldn’t possibly tell my husband, who already finds me refreshingly imbalanced, that I had just fast-forwarded to the end of my life.
What haunted me that day wasn’t that she gave me that look, because I’ve seen it before. What haunted me was that, for the first time, I wondered how many more times in my life I would see it. It’s a look that says, I don’t want to leave you, and I’m sort of scared, but I have to be going now.
I will see that look when she leaves for college, and I will pray she has an amazing journey that involves far more friends than frat boys, far more personal growth and self discovery than alcohol.
I will see that look before she walks down the aisle, and I will pray the man she is walking toward is half the man her father is, that he truly sees and understands and loves her and that he will know I will gladly kill him if he hurts her.
I will see that look when she is carrying her own baby, and I will pray she listens to the wisdom within her and that she doesn’t constantly doubt and criticize herself like her mother did.
And I will see that look when I am an old, withered woman, and the fear in her eyes will be because of me, because I will appear to be a shadow of the mommy I once was.
That is when I will pray she remembers. Remembers how I read her her favorite books until we had memorized every line, how we played Barbies until I wanted to scream, how we named every stuffed kitty and doggie and dolly “Lily” for an entire year, how I let her wear Band-Aids as anytime fashion accessories, how I made her take ballet and be in the recital even though she said she was too scared, how I told her she was kind and intelligent and not just pretty, how I knew exactly how she was feeling and what she needed before she spoke, how my legs were once strong enough to carry and chase her, how there was a time when my hands didn’t shake and my perfect vision could read her mood across a crowded room, how my hair really was blonde, how I could jump and scream and sing louder than the other mothers.
I will pray she remembers how she thought I was beautiful, how she said she wanted to live with us forever, how her daddy and I openly adored each other and hugged and kissed and danced in the kitchen, how she cried in bed at night, worried we would die like other people’s grandmas and grandpas, and how I told her not for a long, long time.
I will pray she remembers. All of it.
Because today when my daughter got on the bus, I was struck by the knowledge that one day, many years from now, if my life goes as I pray, plead, beg it does, I will be the one staring at this beautiful-inside-and-out woman I loved so much it kept me awake at night, and I will be the one with the look that says, I don’t want to leave you, and I’m sort of scared, but I have to be going now.
Until that day, I pray I remember. All of it.