“Pity me that the heart is slow to learn what the swift mind beholds at every turn.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay certainly wasn’t considering the seasons of motherhood when she penned those words, but this line has been going through my head lately as summer wanes into the first days and weeks of school, the first blush of fall, the first nights of settling into a routine that feels both familiar and new. I say it to myself as a “Get a hold of yourself” mantra when this growing up* business gets to feeling a little too heavy, when the cyclical milestones leave me a little breathless even though I know they are coming, even as I steel myself against them.
*By “growing up” I mean, of course, the kids.**
**Or maybe I mean all of us.
September brings with it a knowing sense that the new will soon become as intimate as the familiar once was novel, and this makes the passage of time all the more evident. And with this evidence an undeniable ache in the heart that is slow to learn.
Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Logically, we know that there will be a last day of summer and a first day of school. We know the surface sting of the constant march of time, we know that we can’t slow it down, that the best we can do is to keep up with it, to stand in the red hot center of it as best we can. Give gratitude for the moment, for all of these moments that have added up to one full, blessed journey, and for the moments that will continue to fill us up, moments of blinding joy that we can’t yet fathom. That’s the best we can do. Our minds know this.
But our hearts. Oh, our hearts.
We watch our daughter weave into the crowd and mayhem of students, leaving us with a confident wave and an air kiss goodbye, and our hearts remember the first time. That first kiss. The first time she grabbed our face with both hands and planted a full, slobbery smack on our lips.
We watch our son from the fringe of the playground as another sandbox dweller takes his shovel, and our hearts remember his cries from the moment we first held him in our arms, the way his pinched face looked bewildered and shocked as we lay chest to chest, much the way it does now at the injustice perpetrated against him.
We listen to our daughter read fluidly, effortlessly, and our hearts remember when she climbed onto our laps with her favorite book and pointed to pictures with her chubby fingers until the featherweight ghost of yesteryear settles upon our thighs and words we memorized once upon a time come bubbling from our lips like a forgotten nursery rhyme.
We watch our son take a baseball to the cheek, and our hearts cry out to run to him. Our hearts remember scooping him up and sitting him on the kitchen counter with an ice pack and band-aids as he cradled his blanket and rested his head on the tear-stained shoulder of our shirt.
Our minds remember that we once lived whole, full, happy lives without and unaware of the company of those who’ve become our tribe, but our hearts remember the midnight skin-to-skin, the silky tufts of hair below our noses, the feather-down weight of a newborn and the off-balance shifting weight of a toddler, and the soft skin that stretches across the map of their bones, the topography of which we’ve all but memorized.
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea…
Our minds watch their legs — long and lean and leaving us slowly — and our hearts remember baby thighs doughy as loaves of bread.
Our minds watch them score a soccer goal and our hearts remember the step-fall-step-fall rhythm of those miraculous first steps.
Our minds watch them make new friends and new friends turn into best friends and Saturday nights are suddenly for sleepovers, and our hearts remember bedtime stories and nightlights and kisses goodnight and the please-stay-and-lay-with-me-because-I’m-afraid-of-the-dark nights.
Pity me not the ticking of the minute hand as the years go by; I know I can’t stop it. Even if I could, would I choose to?
And miss all that is to come of our one wild and precious life?
Still. Get a hold of yourself.