March 29, 2016. A Tuesday. Probably I got up, helped you comb your hair, gave you a kiss and stopped off for a cup of coffee on my way into the office. (I don’t actually recall any of that, but it’s what I do every day, so I figure.) In fact, March 29 would have been entirely unremarkable except for that, on that day, you uttered the word “lellow” for the last time – and that I recall perfectly.
“Lellow.” Yellow. The color preceding green in the rainbow. It was one of only two words in that wildly expansive vocabulary which you pronounced like someone your age…one of only two words that you routinely mispronounced, that tethered you (and your mama) to those fleeting toddler years.
For on Wednesday, March 30, you said that word so crystal clear I second-guessed whether you ever mispronounced it in the first place, whether maybe (is it possible?) I imagined that I ever had a little kid who had to learn words, struggle with their pronunciation, grapple with their meaning.
And then suddenly you “wemembered” something. (These many months later, I’m not sure what. It’s irrelevant anyhow.)
“Wemember.” Remember. The act of recollecting. The other word you pronounced like someone your age. The one I knew would shortly go the way of “lellow,” leaving me to “wemember,” with some combination of loss and gratitude, that once – for the briefest of times – I was the mother of a toddler.
In the days and weeks and months that followed, I watched as your running turned to leaping turned to criss-cross walking up the stairs turned to hula-hooping. Your baby fat turned to lean muscle. You learned to write your first, middle and last names. All 20 letters. You started sounding out words on paper. You added, subtracted, identified favorite shapes in ordinary household objects. (“Do you know the top of the toilet is kind of an oval?”) Your impassioned tantrums turned to wordy expressions of profound disappointment. (“You know I could cry right now, right, Mama? I’m all the way back here, and you’re nearly to the Candy House! That’s because you got lucky and pulled that Lollipop Forest card. I want to shake your hand and tell you ‘good game,’ but I’m not sure I can do it. I’m that upset.”) And sometimes profound joy. (One time, we were standing in this long line at the movie theatre waiting for our turn to pay $12 for popcorn. You purported to be having “the best Mama/Elbee day ever.”) You took a keen interest in your family’s stories. You had your favorites. (“Please, Mama! Tell me about the time you looked down and your wedding diamond was missing and you screamed.”) You wondered whether all people were good, and I told you the truth. (Nope. Some of them are flipping terrible, so choose your friends wisely.) You stopped needing a grown-up to join you on your favorite carousel. You just got on up there and waved at your dad and me as you passed us by. I swore for each rotation you were just a little more grown-up. The thing is, I wasn’t exaggerating.
That’s how it goes. The other day, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a wedding photo perched on a shelf. The faces in that photograph were young and relaxed and full of the promise of those whose chief concern is being in love. As I dusted it off, I recognized those faces as ones that used to belong to your dad and me. (In truth, they still do if you imagine really hard. There’s still all that love, but there’s also all that time, all that life.) It happens so quickly.
And so the day I realized you got the hang of “yellow,” I braced myself for “remember.”
You turned four last week – and, tonight, as I tucked you into bed, you “remembered.”
What’d you say? Of course, I heard you the first time.
“Remember when I was a little baby and you saw me for the first time and you, really, really loved me? Remember that?”
Once I was the mother of a toddler. One chapter ends… Onward. Deep breaths. I’ll miss you, little girl.
Yep. I “wemember.”
Also, I still love you.