“I love Grandma Paula,” Emile said, out of the blue. We were sitting at the table and he was drawing.
“Me too. I try to be as good of a mommy as she is,” I said, my heart almost exploding with love for my mother and for my stepson and for the whole world.
“She’s not a mommy!” Emile said, his voice cracking a little.
“Yes! She’s my mommy. And Aunt Julia’s mommy and Uncle Jimmy’s mommy. She’s three people’s mommy.”
Understanding flooded Emile’s face. Even a grown-up can have a mommy. Even a grandma is a mommy. And I think he looked at me a little differently after this realization. For a brief moment, he saw me as someone more than his stepmother and his sister’s mother, but as the child I was, the child I am, the child I will always be.
It’s a slow, sometimes painful process to discover that your parents are more than just your parents. That they had a life before you, and they still have a life apart from you. You are not their sole reason for existing. Probably only some of you remember those innocent days, when the world still revolved around you and your parents were more like angels (or aliens) than fellow human beings.
Since childhood can’t last forever, innocence eventually evaporates into the stress of adulthood. Playtime ends and work begins. Responsibilities and aspirations become like heavy weights resting on your shoulders, day and night. You see your parents making mistakes. You see yourself becoming like your parents, maybe even becoming a parent.
The thing about childhood is that you don’t know to appreciate it until it’s gone. Sometimes, if I focus, I can re-locate the joy of my childhood. I close my eyes and I remember the house where I was born, the garden where I played in the mud, the Barbie houses my sister and I built, the toys we cherished, the bunk beds where we slept, the sweetness of my baby brother, the safety of my father’s arms, the tenderness of my mother’s touch, the sunflowers that grew up alongside us, the perfection of a snow day, the watery sunsets from our front porch.
And I find comfort in knowing that these moments are not lost. My childhood innocence, my carefree days, they built the person I am today.