Last weekend, Charles and I took the little girls on a bike ride. It was the first time that we were able to do this with Charlie, as she has really progressed nicely with riding her bike without riding it into a telephone pole (i.e., she is able to look up while pedaling). Elizabeth was working, like she has pretty much all summer because her employer has a pretty flagrant disregard for things like child labor laws, so it was just the four of us.
We were riding through the streets of our town, and Alexis asked to decide which way we turned. I had an intense flashback to riding the bike with Elizabeth, before Alexis was born, and even after with her in the trailer. I remember the thrill, the freedom, that a child experiences with riding a bike. I remember the sheer innocence of getting pleasure out of such a simple activity written all over her face the way it was Alexis's and Charlie's. Those twilight rides, taken in that sweet time between the end of summer and the beginning of fall, are some of my favorite memories, with all of my girls.
It struck me how it seems like just a few summers ago that we were doing this with Elizabeth. It does not seem possible that she is 16, going on 17 in a few short months. I am keenly aware that soon she will not be living with us; that she will be moving on in life to start her own.
It really highlights the struggle that I have with having a family with such a drastic age difference. It was part of why I was OK with Charlie being our last. That 13 year age difference is a lot. Elizabeth no longer enjoys the bike rides with her parents. Hell, she avoids her parents as much as she can, except when she needs something signed or money. And that is OK. That is the way it is supposed to be. Parenthood is working yourself out of a job, or at least a full time job. You never really retire from parenthood, just semi-retire. And when people tell you to enjoy it, you simultaneously roll your eyes because, quite frankly, we all retain a little bit of adolescent attitude and don't want to listen to our elders. And because you know. The baby comes home from the hospital, and all of a sudden they don't fit into their newborn clothes. Overnight. (Or in the case of the gargantuan babies I birth, the 0-3 months clothes...) It does go so quickly, yet you are suffering from no sleep and the house never being clean enough and never having time to yourself and never pooping alone and planning dates around nap times and soccer games and sex what the hell is that...? And hearing that is not what you want because you have so much guilt anyways that you aren't enjoying it enough.
I want to hold on to those memories, though, even as I have to let go. I want to remember that little girl who called Charles Spike. The girl who used to fight naps like they would kill her. The preteen with the braces, who then moved onto the requisite heavy black eyeliner that almost every girl does at least once in her life. The woman who stood before me in her prom dress and made me cry. (Four times. This will happen four times because she will be going to prom all four years in high school...) I want to remember all of this as I see the absolutely amazing woman that my daughter is becoming. I am sure she does not feel amazing. 16 sucks. It is a swirling shitstorm of emotions and insecurity and a stunning combination of naivete and wisdom, all wrapped into a body that is likely to be the best you have ever had in your life.
Every parent says they are proud of their child. And every parent is. I strongly feel that it is a testament to who Elizabeth is as a person that she is not completely fucked up, given the crazy that is her mother. It will be a testament to Alexis, and to Charlie, that they managed to survive in spite of my best efforts to emotionally scar them. I consider less than ten years of therapy apiece to be a success story.
So far, they are all at least smart enough to hide the bodies. It's the small things, really.