On Fleetingness

28 05 2013

I was going to start this post almost four weeks ago. I know how many only because of the posting plan–I’ve been counting days, fervid with intention and watching my own points make and reiterate themselves without me, and certainly without commitment to paper (digital screens count).

This is a post about time, after all, and how it flies, so of course it’s been in flight, fast and jagged, tearing at the edges of days and experiences, which must be why, sometimes, it feels so slow. It’s not a new idea, by any means, but every day with Evanny is the first of its kind, so the old idea, for me, has new expressions.


Four weeks ago, spring was just starting in Central New York. Yes, it’s now the end of May–that’s how things work here. Every year, I tell guests and well-wishers from warmer parts of the world that our trees will be bare sticks until May, and every year I feel like I’m exaggerating when I say that, and every year I’m not. And then May itself is a playground slide–you wait so long for the sunny day to come, you walk all the way to the park, you wait your turn, you carefully, oh so carefully, climb the rickety play-structure, and then “whoosh,” it’s already over, and you’re scalding your bum on the hot metal of June and some kid in a rush is hollering behind you to move or be crashed into.
I took that picture four weeks ago, at the beginning of May. It had happened in the space of three days or so, the dramatic shift from the barely visible pinking of the branch ends that arrives with a foolish optimism every February or March, a beach-vacation planned in the dead of winter, after which nothing at all ripens visibly for months, to this fluffy branch of yellow-green bunny-tails: the frothy flowers of a yellow maple fireworking into the chill grey air. A day later, there were limp, oily, new leaves tiny among the pompons. Two days after that their glossy limpness overtook the froth in the image; for three weeks already it’s been soft leaves, already full-summer sized and just waiting for thickness, tossing like ponies’ manes in the wind. The flowers fell like a dense rain–for a day the yard was spotted with stars, then two days of soft yellow carpet, then three of a lingering, browning pile-up, and now they just well in forgotten places, pushed aside like last autumn’s leaves. One week, from bare branches to a full head of maple–and you wonder why it’s people with a little forced cheer and desperation in their voices who tell you they love spring the best. Fifty weeks in the making & the whole show done in two. It’s beautiful, there’s no doubt there, but Lord does it go by so fast.

And so, yes, the metaphor.  Evanny’s walking–still attached to two gripped-white fingers (my fingers, white from the ferocity of her gripping, not of my concern)–but walking nonetheless.  Running, if her attention is caught by something at the other end of a clear-path straightaway.  Dribbling her brother’s soccer ball, her little plastic dollar-store balls, or the cats’ jingle-balls as she goes more often than not.  I waited 38 years–a whole medieval lifetime–for the Spring of this little life to come, and the whole show will be done in two: she’ll be sassing me with words by then, not just deft changes in the pitch of her holler, walking and running and dribbling without me, telling me stories about things she’s seen or done that I don’t know about, and making memories she’ll actually remember.  And if two years sounds like a long time–and on some level of course it still does–look at the fractions instead: we’re already a third of the way there.  Babyhood is already a third of the way over.  The two-week rush from sticks to full-sized leaves is already on its first Thursday, and everybody knows from Thursday you can already smell the weekend coming.

On the one hand this pace, and the hugeness of having to be aware of it overwhelms me; it’s so fast, and it’s so big a thing to comprehend, and there’s no sense in how no number of pictures taken (and I take thousands) will actually slow it down, and so of course the pangs come, of guilt when I do anything other than gaze at her, of neck-muscle spasms from bending down to gaze at her.  “Treasure every moment,” people whose kids aren’t little anymore say, piling on the pressure to be overwhelmed by the mad march of time, but unless they have amnesia they don’t mean it.  Exhibit A: take, for example, the moment when, changing the baby’s diaper in the dark, you reach down, having removed the old diaper already, to position the new one, and find your hand sinking into a new, warm deposit filling the baby’s pajamas–and this moment only happens when there isn’t even a laundry hamper handy, because you’d just transferred every stitch of worn baby clothes-and-linens into the dryer before heading to bed.  They don’t mean those moments.

 They probably do, though, mean the rocking-in-the-dark-beside-the-crib moments: the fight in her rigid little body melting, the warbly wordless voice singing with me (or for me, if I’m shushing, to tell me to sing instead), her warm breath against my neck, the flutter of her tiny lashes under my lip, some days’ wide-eyed, resistant staring at the ceiling past my head, the way she’s starting to understand the warning tone in my voice when I ask if she’s ready to cooperate or if I should lay her down for a while to rest my back until she is; some times, now, she responds to the question by closing her eyes and burrowing into my chest.  So in those moments–which happen several times a day but which she’s most likely to drag out into hours at four-no-five-now-going-on-six in the morning, it’s good to have the perspective of that big-pressure thought: and not just “this won’t last,” but “this is already over; she’s only getting bigger, and harder to hold.”  She will never be this small, this easy to rock and to cradle, ever again. Which isn’t to say it’s easy–it isn’t.  But it’s easier than it will be tomorrow, and the day after, and the one after that.  I still groan (mostly inwardly) when her voice wakes me; I desperately want to sleep for more than three or four hours at a time, not just on once-a-month fluke days but as an actual habit.  But when she beams up at me in the dark, when she pats me on the back as I carry her into our bed to feed her, when I carry her limp form back, or when she’s chirping merrily as we head back down the dark hall and I know we’re in for a long version of the go-the-fsck-to-sleep game, I think gratefully of the flash-fast flowering of the maple and of how brief, and how fast, what’s left of her Spring will be, and I do, despite my aching back, treasure the moments.




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