As our children age, time refuses to slow

Per­haps it was the way the sun­light hit her face. It was bright and un­for­giv­ing.

Or per­haps it was just a moth­er look­ing at her own daugh­ter with new eyes.

But on a re­cent or­din­ary af­ter­noon ablazed with sum­mer sun­light, as I sat out­doors talk­ing with Amy, our middle daugh­ter, I no­ticed an un­mis­tak­able crink­ling of lines around her brown eyes.

Amy — the “child” who used to watch me cam­ou­fla­ging my own squig­gly lines with makeup and ask, “Why are you put­ting on that junk, mom?” — was clearly show­ing the signs of be­ing 40-something. The ir­re­fut­able fact of that dec­ade in Amy’s life still stuns me.

And could that truly be gray run­ning through her au­burn hair? This was, after all, the same dec­ade when her fath­er’s hair made the jour­ney from au­burn to gray to sil­ver. And Amy is her fath­er’s ge­net­ic double.

For a crazy mo­ment, I fought an over­power­ing urge to stop our con­ver­sa­tion and say, “Hold everything! There’s been a mis­take here!”

I wanted to reach out, take her hand, and lead her back to an­oth­er time when she was shiel­ded and pro­tec­ted from the vi­cis­situdes of adult­hood - in­clud­ing wrinkles.

But Amy, like her sis­ters, is no longer that child of tender years for whom I can or­der and de­tox­i­fy the world, at least to the ex­tent that any par­ent can for any child. The his­tor­ic­al data I’ve stored up in my bul­ging memory bank of Amy is just that — his­tory.

And even though we con­tin­ued talk­ing in the dwind­ling light of late af­ter­noon while Amy’s own chil­dren dar­ted in and out of our im­me­di­ate field of vis­ion, I couldn’t con­cen­trate any more.

I was search­ing for clues as to how these years between sweet de­pend­ency and total wo­man­hood/total in­de­pend­ence had slipped away while my back was turned. I was once again play­ing out that old­est game of moth­er­ing, the, “How did it all go by so fast?” quiz.

And in that sweepstakes, there are no grand prizes ex­cept baffle­ment.

For the rest of that day, I watched my daugh­ter nav­ig­ate her world, one cur­rently defined by all the re­spons­ib­il­ity of a work­ing moth­er with two little girls. I watched a wo­man, not a girl, move from the ex­hil­ar­a­tion of moth­er­hood to the ex­haus­tion and ex­as­per­a­tion of it, some­times in the mat­ter of seconds.

Amy, I had to re­mind my­self, was do­ing all this in her 40s. I’d done it al­most two dec­ades earli­er.

Did I, too, have that edge, back then, of al­tern­at­ing anxi­ety and joy, pleas­ure and pure frus­tra­tion? Was my life then as defined — and con­fined — as hers?

Of course it was. And I had to con­cede that while we shared this com­mon ex­per­i­ence, Amy was do­ing the job with con­sid­er­ably more wis­dom and know­ledge than I had brought to the call­ing as a young­er, less con­fid­ent, moth­er.

But the linger­ing im­pres­sion of that long af­ter­noon with my daugh­ter, as I watched her talk and smile and ges­ture, was re­duced to a single, start­ling no­tion: this per­son, so known and loved, is a wo­man in her 40s. And show­ing it.

Des­pite the thou­sands of times I had looked in­to her face, I had nev­er seen it as clearly be­fore. No vestiges of that little girl with the roun­ded cheeks she hated, and a mop of curls she coaxed out of ex­ist­ence with — dare I say it — an iron!

The per­son fa­cing me was not try­ing to halt time with the min­is­tra­tions of doc­tors or magazine-toured products. She was what she was: a won­der­ful, ac­com­plished wo­man in her 40s!

And I’m not sure why that no­tion is so start­ling.

I just know that it is. ••

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