The evanescence of childhood

I love this passage from the short story “Quality Time” by Barbara Kingsolver in her collection Homeland.  The passage comes after Miriam, a single mother, has just answered a string of questions about death from her five-year-old daughter Rennie as they drive home from day care.  Rennie has ruminatively decided that she would rather live with her aunt than her father if something were to happen to Miriam, and Miriam has looped around the block a few times in order to let the conversation run its course.  Now the subject turns to dinner.  Rennie wants pot pies — even after her mother suggests a stop at Ice Cream Heaven — and declares that, yes, she’ll be able to wait the half hour for dinner to cook in the oven once they get home.

In the overtones of her voice and the way she pushes her blond hair over her shoulder there is a startling maturity, and Miriam is frozen for a moment with a vision of a much older Rennie.  All the different Rennies — the teenager, the adult — are already contained in her hands and her voice, her confidence.  From moments like these, parents can find the courage to believe in the resilience of their children’s lives.  They will barrel forward like engines, armoured by their own momentum, more indestructible than love.

To me, this passage captures the fleetingness of both childhood and parenthood.  It also catches that moment in a parent’s life when you realize that, no matter what you do, your child is a person unto him- or herself.  One day, you will have to simply step back, let go, and stand on the riverbank as the current of who your child is flows by you, cutting its own special course through the unseen landscapes ahead.

 

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