Mamma Mia! came out in movie format when my first was a baby. I’m a sucker for musicals, and so is mamma mia (my mom), so we watched it together. There’s a scene where Meryl Streep is helping her daughter (Amanda Seyfried) get ready for her wedding, and she sings the song “Slipping through my fingers” about her daughter growing up. The love, the memories, the guilt, the longing for more time …
Do I really see what’s in her mind?
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time.
As I watched the scene with tears running down my face, I turned to look at my mom; she was having the same reaction. “This song must have been written by a mother,” she said.
It’s just one of the many things nobody tells you about being a parent: Your kids will bring you more joy than anything else in life, but that joy always carries a bit of sadness with it. Perhaps the touch of melancholy makes the joy even sweeter, because we know that it is fleeting.
Every day, I have friends posting #nevergrowup and #stopgrowing under their kids’ photos. It seems like a universal sentiment, this sadness about our children growing older, but why? Of course, we want our kids to grow up. No one would choose the alternative. We also want their bodies to mature at a healthy pace, naturally. Yet, as the song says, it comes with “a surge of that well-known sadness.”
I’m not much for postpartum baby blues—I’ve been on antidepressants since I was 16, so I have them to thank for my mellow transitions. However, the closest I came to the blues was the first week with my first child, holding her and loving her so much, but realizing that every moment was fleeting. Every moment made her a moment older, and a moment closer to growing older and away from me. I had welcomed a daughter but already felt the first pangs of loss at the thought of our imminent parting.
Nothing is permanent in motherhood. “Slipping through my fingers” is such an apt description of the feeling. You try to grip onto moments that run through your fingers like sand. And that’s why we mothers feel compelled to take thousands of pictures! It’s the closest we can come to capturing the moment, to freezing time the way we somehow wish we could. How could I miss my baby girl when she was only days old? It’s because she was already less a part of me than she had been before birth, and I could sense the trajectory to come. Loving a child is bittersweet like that.
When our babies are initially forming, they are part of our bodies, in a way. When they’re born, they begin to live independently, but they’re still so much a part of us. With each passing year, they become older and more independent, but we mothers hang on to that spiritual-physical connection. It’s like the famous Elizabeth Stone quote about the decision to have a child: “It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”
With every change, every birthday, every new school year, there is a gain along with a loss. I’ve gained a 4-year-old, but it meant losing my 3-year-old forever! There’s a bit of mourning that comes along with that. There’s also an anticipation of loss that can be harder than the actual passage of time. Would I trade my 10-year-old for her younger self? No. Would I like to go back and visit her little self for a day? Yes. Once in a while, I’ll see a fun princess something and think, “Charlotte would love that!” Then I quickly remember that today’s Charlotte is 10. And I miss the little girl who would have loved that princess thing.
ABBA got it so right.