I drove my daughter an hour and a half each way this morning for her orthodontist’s appointment. The interstate was a little icy up on top by the Lincoln Monument (the highest point on the nation’s interstate system), but otherwise it was fine. A nice but cold sunshiny day.
After my daughter’s appointment, the nice ladies at reception gave her two balloons ~ a yellow and a purple one ~ that were attached to a Twix bar, and they gave her fruit snacks for good measure. Allie, the one receptionist, is particularly perky and sweet, just like my daughter, and my daughter always gives her a big hug as we leave.
About halfway home as I watched in my rearview mirror, my daughter, who is almost 7, started playing with the balloons. She was having a conversation with them and telling a story about them and even arguing with them. I couldn’t hear much because the radio was on, but it was an indepth and complex game she was playing. Her eyebrows would shoot up and she’d tilt her head and say something very pleasant and then her brow would furrow and she’d shake her head and say something stern and then she’d get mock-angry and banish the balloons to the third seat in the back of the van. Then she’d bring them back forward and shake the violently and hit them against one another as if they were fighting, and then I would hear her say, “Now, be nice to each other.” This lasted for almost 45 minutes.
Besides the obvious mirror of what us, her parents, say to her, this got me thinking about interiors. In some ways, the interior lives of our children are totally open to us. We mystify them because we can guess what they did wrong and what they are about to do wrong. That’s because it is written in neon letters on their forwards by their expressions and their body language and what they’ve done before. They are a little bundle of desires, and you can see them moving from TV to candy to the video game back to dinner.
But there are corners of them we don’t know and never will. Sometimes ~ like my daughter’s story to herself this morning ~ I have no idea what prompted it and what story she was telling. The people who are closest to us and whom we think we know so well are riddled with these little patches of light and darkness that we know nothing about. Your husband or your wife ~ they have a whole inner life that you don’t want to think about. Could it be they’re thinking of leaving you? Do they secretly detest you? Or are they simply taking you for granted and you are no longer the center of their thoughts?
And I can imagine that one of the horrible things about kids growing older is that they become estranged from you. It is out of necessity ~ they have to become their own people ~ but I could see how those portions of light and dark within your kids could expand, until it overtakes them and these little beings whom you love with all your heart are now strangers to you.
In some ways, life is a series of losses that you grieve forever, but then again the flip side is that it’s a series of wonderful gains too. I guess the trick is to be open ~ despite the fact that there is loss, let yourself love again. Sure, your kids will grow up one day and move away, but if you don’t have them in the first place, you'll never know them and also there’s a part of you you will never know.