Proof of a Happy Childhood

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Happy child with red paper heart. Image shot 03/2012. Exact date unknown.

How is it over?  I don’t think I looked away, but somehow I didn’t see it happening right now.  Her childhood is over.  Grace has grown up.  And Monday, she leaves.  I am stunned by the truth I have always known, and at this minute it is raw, and painful.  I will miss my little girl.

I spent the evening putting together a collage of Grace’s childhood – proof for her future roommates that it was a happy one, and that she comes from a loving family.  I dug through boxes of old photos – remember when we had boxes and envelopes of photos?  Duplicates of everything so we could send them to grandparents?  Well, all the old photos are in the basement, in dusty under-the-bed storage containers.  I sat on the floor, sifting through the years, staggered by the speed of life.

There are almost two decades of sheer beauty in there.  A life time, our life times.  Birthday parties with homemade Barbie cakes, pony rides, Halloween costumes, Christmas stockings, so many summers at the beach and lake, years when she lived in dress ups.  Pictures of family trips, and of the everyday – baking cookies with big-girl aprons and baker’s hats, and flour all over the kitchen.  How is that all in our past?

I know that we have loved Grace the best way we have known how, and I see that she is so capable.  Kind, smart, funny, intense, and happy.  She is a parent’s dream come true.  She has worked hard, and done everything we’ve told her would help her build a good future for herself.  And now that we are getting ready to let her go, I am panicked by the thought that we have not told her how we feel, that somehow she does not know how our hearts are swelling and aching.

Can she possibly know what it feels like to spend your life working toward something to watch it happen, as it walks away from you?  Can she know a parent’s love?  I can’t think so.  I try to explain to the kids why I am crying – my job, if done well, leaves me standing empty-handed, having lifted the candle lantern into the air to fly away.  Of course there is joy – we have treasured parenthood.  But there is also sadness built in to the job.  So, the best I can do is try to show her – and because words fail, I choose my favorite pictures:  Grace, 3 days old, on our pillow on our bed, with her big sister, still in a diaper, leaning over her, with her father gazing in wonder; Grace, decked out head-to-toe in everything pink, sparkly, touled, and a sign of royalty; Grace, with her bright eyes sparkling in the summer sun, laughing as she sits on her cousin’s shoulders at the beach; Grace, lying on the grass, with her head on my lap, both of us laughing.  I have a couple dozen photos pasted together, to show her her life in review.  Are these images proof of a happy childhood?  I can’t say.  But what I know is, that childhood is over.

Elizabeth Frederick is a local writer and mother of four who has documented her two daughters’ college admissions process in the Baltimore  Fishbowl column Getting In.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sitting in my office having a good cry, personalizing this completely, and I’m only dealing with the jump to middle school! Thank you for this wonderful essay, which says exactly how full your heart truly is. I wish for you all a smooth and happy transition.

    • Hi Missy, good luck to you at Back to School night! Middle school is tough. But these are good days, and I hope you cherish them. We dropped Grace at college, and I am adrift… She, on the other hand, is having a great time, so we are okay. 🙂 Thanks for your encouraging words.

  2. Elizabeth I read a ton, I have a girlfriend- future wife in prison, I try to make sure I send her stuff that is meaningful, they have her body and her time, I try to make sure I keep her heart and mind active your last two columns were beautifully written, I am sending them to her, she loves children and were planning on having them when shes out, im sending her your two articles about your child leaving for college- its the highest compliment I can give.

    • Craig, I’m really touched and honored that my reflections hit you the right way. This parenting journey is a wonder, and I wish you and your future wife all the joy of it.

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