This Moment

There is no way to prepare for this moment. It is on the calendar from the day you are born, as if we needed a reminder: Isabella’s Birthday. Alerts appear across our screens for the week, the day before, as if we had an appointment to fulfill and not an eighteenth birthday to celebrate.

The day arrives under clouds unusual for Denver, a sticky fog that walks the dog with me in an otherwise sunny city. It’s a cold, snowless, winter day.

Winter is your season, and my season, of motherhood, with your joyous arrival to and imminent departure from our home. Winter, filled with your favorite sports: ice skating, skiing, and snowboarding. My Colorado girl through and through.

There is no way to prepare for this moment. The government calls you an adult. You’re going to college soon, so far away. Yet I can still feel you inside of me, in my womb, reluctant to emerge into this season that surrounds us. I can still feel your fat cheeks, your warm skin, you nursing me, you cuddling with books on the couch, your chattery voice that began when you were a baby and carried you through all the years of love and pain.

Every moment of your life, I have loved you. Even those dark moments of anger, of bitterness and sorrow, even when I’ve said things I regret saying and when you’ve said things I hate to hear you say. The love is deeper than this snow, this sand, this world that buries you.

Today you turn eighteen. Today my motherhood turns eighteen, and what a motherhood you have given me. Filled with adventure, with that shiny, green-eyed smile, with sass and sweetness in a perfect concoction of passion.

You are my oldest, the leader of three girls. The oldest grandchild for my parents, the leader of five girls. And with this title comes great joy and great responsibility. Everyone watches to see what you will do, and you can feel the pressure. Everyone watches to see what you will do, and you can feel the hope.

I hope you will always feel the hope.

I hope you carry it with you whether you are navigating a stream, snowboarding down a mountain, taking a test, finding a spouse, raising a child. Carry that hope, that weight, that blessing of being the oldest with you wherever you go.

Because I know you. I have known you since your first moments, moments filled with joy and strength and love. Moments where I carried you everywhere, in my arms, on my back, across the country, across the world. And you took them in, these moments of awe and enthusiasm, giving us all that coy smile, that wondrous look, that candid examination of your world.

There is no way to prepare for this moment. This moment where you will emerge into the adult human you are bound to be, and I can no longer carry you.

I can no longer drag you on the sled; you have learned to ice-skate on your own. I can no longer put you on my shoulders; you have learned to hike, begrudgingly or not, to the top of every mountain I’ve made you climb. I can no longer push you on the bicycle or teach you how to drive; you have to take the handlebars of this life and steer your way into your future.

And what a future you have before you, my child. A girl whose obsession with dresses lasted until the moment we moved to Spain, my fashionista from day one, who’s always had a better sense of style than I’ve ever known. A girl with big dreams for a star-filled world of aerospace engineering, of flying a rocket ship into the galaxy you’ve been reading about in fantasy books since you were a kid. A girl who isn’t afraid to test the waters of a new country, a new language, a new school, a new neighborhood, a new sport, a new foster brother … a whole new life.

My girl, now a woman, turns eighteen in this moment. This moment trapped in time, in history, your late adolescence plagued by a pandemic whose sorrow has engulfed you top to bottom, whose dark hours steal your joy, whose grip clings to your happy memories and tears at your confidence.

Yet here you are, as beautiful as ever, standing in our kitchen. Grinning with our family. Finding a way to make your senior year work.

Take this moment, Izzy–this day, this year, this family, this love, this hope–with you wherever you go.

This moment and every moment since you entered the world eighteen years ago, I have loved you, and I will love you for every moment that we continue to share this world together, no matter how many miles apart we may be.

Take this moment, Izzy, and be the person you have always wanted to be. The person you have always been, the star in our sky, the oldest of three girls, the leader of the pack. Take this moment and cherish it as much I have always cherished you.

Happy, happy birthday, my oldest baby girl.

The Hundred Little Things

It’s been almost a year since our world shut down, and 465,000+ deaths later (just in the U.S.), nothing is changing any time soon. Nothing changes. Or we take one step forward (oust Trump) and two steps back (acquit Trump). One step forward (vaccines are on the way) and two steps back (virus variants could beat vaccines).

But I don’t want to write about steps forward or back. I want to write about the little things. The hundred little things that are a part of everyday life and that are no longer a part of everyday life.

I’m back at school now, and what a mess. Never mind that I’m teaching simultaneously to ten students in my room and fifteen more at home, everyone logged into the Google Meet.

But I don’t want to write about that mess. I want to write about my tea. How, for seventeen years of teaching, when the bell rings, I step into the hallway with my fellow teachers and greet students at the door. I stand there thoroughly enjoying my passing period with my hot and sugary, creamy tea and give fist bumps and hugs and hellos as my kids meander in from the crowded and jubilant hallway.

You can’t stand there drinking tea with two masks on your face.

I want to write about past assignments. Creating beautiful, colorful slideshows that we’d print out every year for Culture Fest, put on poster boards to create a collage of the multicultural world in my classroom. Newcomers cutting out hearts for Valentine’s Day, hands of gratitude for Thanksgiving, holding books in their hands, and reading with the endless string of volunteers. The kids sitting in my room at lunch, before school, after school, jabbering in seven languages and communicating through laughter and music.

I want to write about walking my dog in my neighborhood and not having to cross to the other side of the street when I see a person on the same sidewalk fifty feet in front of me.

I want to write about packing my leftovers and eating lunch at the long table, about all the small conversations I no longer have with my colleagues, conversations about the government, the school, the kids, our love lives, our lack of love lives, our kids, our nieces and nephews, our aging parents, our truths.

I want to write about seeing a smile, a genuine smile, on a friend’s or a stranger’s face without it being hidden by a mask.

I want to write about being exhausted on a weeknight and walking five blocks to the local restaurant instead of putting dinner on the stove.

About those small, everyday moments. Stopping at the grocery store to surprise the students with donuts that they can eat in class. Making brownies for my colleagues’ birthdays. My kids getting up at the same time every day, piling into the car with me, trekking the ten minutes to school. Driving them to all their endless activities, watching them master the floor routine or cut their time in a race or perform at a pep rally. Knowing that they see their teachers’ faces every day and don’t hide themselves behind a letter on a screen, ignoring the world.

Knowing that if they need help, a human face will come with a pass and pull them out of the classroom, and they don’t have to remember all on their own some random appointment on Google Meet. (Oh, not another Google Meet…)

I want to write about walking into that 1924 masterpiece of architecture every day, knowing it will be filled with a microcosm of our perfectly-imperfect world, not empty hallways and masked faces.

I want to write about how easy teaching is when you can walk around the room, pat a student on the back, crouch down next to another, whisper advice to a third, listen to the thoughts of a fourth, and so on until you’ve talked to every last one. Talked. Really talked.

I want to write about how these little, seemingly-meaningless, everyday events, now absent for nearly a year, are … life.

Life isn’t a ski trip or a mansion or your dream career or your sought-after sports car.

Life is in each of these moments that are now gone. Twisted and torn, covered and broken.

These hundred little moments that once seemed so basic, so dull, yet whose absence has created a void that feels as frozen as a stream that never freezes.

So here I am. Mid-February 2021. Staring at this stream on a night too cold to be walking. And missing the hundred little things that used to make a life.