It doesn’t take much to get to me these days. There are little moments that knock at my heart like tiny little baby fists, not particularly painful but still palpable. I can never be sure when one of these moments will float by like a dust mite or take up residence in my mind, pushing aside whatever rational thought I might be having at the time.
It can happen at the grocery store, the most ordinary place. I don’t enjoy food shopping anymore—in fact, I never really did, even when I was cooking every night and feeding kids and friends of kids and parents of friends of kids and family and whoever else was around on a Tuesday evening or Sunday afternoon. And yet, while pushing a cart up and down the aisle in search of the exact same food I buy every week, every so often I’ll look up and see a package of Hot Pockets or a box of Frosted Mini Wheats or a bag of little orange Clementines and I will miss those days of being that person who bought those foods for her little children so much that I’ll have to stop for a minute and calm down.
Sometimes, when I walk past the den where my husband is watching a football game, I’ll hear the roar of the crowd and, for a few minutes, be transported back to rainy autumn Sundays when there was nothing else to do but hang around my dad while he watched the game, yelling and cheering and often losing money on some bet he placed with some guy. I can smell the cologne he wore and the chocolate Sara Lee brownies he ate and I can feel his hand on mine, warm and big. For just a brief time I am 8 years old and someone’s little girl again.
I used to cry at movies when the kids all sang “so long, farewell” or the girl clicked her red heels and finally went home because those were the movies of my childhood that taught me something about love and family and what really matters. But the last time I cried—I mean really cried— at a movie, it was when I watched “Beauty and the Beast,” the live version, with my 27-year-old daughter, when Emma Thompson started warbling, “Tale as old as time …” as Belle danced with the Beast.
It wasn’t the movie that made me burst into tears—it was the immediate and deep longing for my 2-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter dancing around our house during the early years, twirling on the stained white carpet (because who buys white carpet with children?) and the blue-and-white sofa and the ’80s mirrors on the walls, in front of which my babies would perform and watch themselves, utterly un-self-conscious and perfect. My daughter, when she saw that I was sobbing, could not grasp the depth of my sadness for those few minutes—the longing for what once was, the comprehension that those moments were THE moments—the joy underneath my ugly cry that there she was, watching with me, this beautiful young woman who once danced around the living room in her pink Belle nightgown, her little brother following her everywhere she went.
Now that they are grown—those two little people who were always right there next to me, who have no connection to the little girl I was all those years ago watching football in a house on Long Island with my father, who probably loved me as much as I love them—now that they are grown, I reminisce with them the way my mother reminisces with me about my childhood, with love and affection and honesty and probably a pair of nostalgic rose-colored glasses. There is such pleasure in remembering even the worst days because we were all in it together.
Sometimes at night as we are falling asleep, my husband will tell me “I love you” in such a way that I can feel down to my deepest part how true that is and I will feel the tears come—just a few, but they are there. And then I will smile and drift off knowing that, at least for that night, everything is good.
Previously published on Purple Clover