You fly down the hill on your sled. I watch you go over the jump, lifting inches into the air before making contact with the snow again, then continue to plummet down the hill. You’re moving so fast, and I hold my breath until you glide to a stop, your arms behind your head and a giant grin on your face.
The fear I felt as you started the journey down slips away, and it’s replaced with a gentle pride. My brave boy.
We trudge to the top of the hill, and you go down the jump again. “Come on,” you urge me from the bottom of the hill, your red sled bright against the fields of snow.
I smile, and position my sled, safely away from the jump. I keep my legs out in front of me, where I can stop myself, or at least slow myself, creating the illusion of control.
I lift my feet off, and I am careening down the hill. I’m not thinking about work or money or the pile of dishes at home—for a moment, there is just me, sliding through air. But then my physical age makes itself known—thunk, thunk, thunk, as the base of my spine hits the frozen ground over and over again, sending a shock up my vertebrae. “Woohoo!” I yell. And also: “Ow!”
My sled spins around, and I flop onto the snow. I can hear you laughing from just off to the left, your face bright and open.
You go down the jump over and over again, and I watch you, feeling an unfamiliar envy of your youth, your joints juicy and oiled as they absorb the impact of your body hitting the ground. Meanwhile, my own tailbone whispers, you’re going to feel this tomorrow, Sweetie.
Somehow, you are eight.
It goes by so fast, I want to tell you.
You will miss your childhood at the strangest moments. Like when you’re 42, and you’re watching your son catch air in the bright February sun. I want to tell you this secret of adulthood, the one that still catches me by surprise.
I remember being your age. I can still feel that tightly coiled longing for independence, for adulthood, where nobody would tell me what to do, for a time when my life would finally, blessedly, be my own. I can feel it in you—not now, but many times in a given day, when your wants veer off from what the day—and often, I—demand of you. I feel the vibration, the it’s not fair radiate off of you. And I remember the I can’t wait-ness of it all, when adulthood was something that lingered off in the future, some distant city, gleaming and mysterious.
And I remember my dad, about the age I am now, at a Christmas party one year. “How are you?” one of the dozens of milling adults had asked him as I perched next to him. “I’m good, but boy, time is going by so fast,” my dad said, shaking his head. “It feels like in one of those movies when you see the pages flying off the calendars.” I looked at my dad, startled. How could time be going so quickly for him, and so slowly for me?
And now, all these years later, unwrapped from my childhood, I understand what my dad meant.
“Come on, Mom!” you yell from the bottom of the hill. And I sled down again, the thrill of velocity, of feeling my body move through space and time, mingling with the thud of my spine against the sled, mingling with shavings of ice piercing the skin on my lower back.
The sled slows, then stops, and for a moment, I just lay flat on the sled, staring at the cloud-speckled sky, the heat of the sun on my cheeks. You are alive, I think. You are here, and you won’t always be here, and this is what it feels like. Your body is older, but not yet old.
Enjoy this, my love, I want to tell you. Because if you are like me, and I suspect you are, you will find moments throughout the rest of your life where you will mourn the loss of your own childhood. Where it will still sometimes feel an impossible betrayal that it’s over. My youngness was all I’d known. It had felt self-contained, closed and clasped, and part of me still can’t believe I’ve burst out of it, into the freefall of time. It’s the same part of me, tender and ego-centric, that couldn’t quite believe my parents were ever kids, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, or that the world spun before I’d arrived in it, or that someday, I’d lie under a February sun feeling the sweet force of life pulse through me, connecting me to everything else alive.
I want to tell you all of this but I don’t, because this type of knowledge can’t be transferred. It can only be learned through the drip-drop of time, through becoming 9 and 12 and 23 and 42 and 65, from seeing your own beautiful child fly into the air on his sled and land without wincing, with the sweet, slick joints that your body once held. That you can feel homesick for a version of yourself that only exists in your own memories, for an era when there was always enough time, when your future hung ahead, waiting to be shaped. That nostalgia can feel so thick that it has its own skin.
And that, for just a moment, with little splinters of ice pricking your back and the sun stroking your face, and with the help of a child who is now the age you once were, you will feel both middle-aged and young, both old and fresh-faced, all the past and future versions of yourself nested within, and so alive you could almost burst.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Catherine Monkman