It seems to me that growing up comes in fits and spurts. There can be long periods of time where the changes are imperceptible, and then sudden bursts of transformation. My daughter is surging towards adolescence. She has both an assurance and a tentativeness that make me want to cheer her on and protect her all at once.
Jeans grow too short in a mere matter of weeks; she bumps her head on things that she could barely reach just a couple of years ago. She is funny and tender and brave and just amazing.
A few weeks ago, she reached her arms out to me – like she has since she was a baby — wanting me to carry her upstairs to bed. I don’t do this every night, and I can’t remember the last time I did it. But I look at her – long and strong – and realize that I could no longer safely make my way up the stairs while carrying her. When I tell her this, she bursts into tears. We have moved into the next phase of growing up, neither of us ready or expecting it.
Sometimes growing up is like that.
Slowly, we walk upstairs and I tuck her into bed. I sit with her until her eyelashes rest on her cheeks, and her breathing slows into slumber. I wonder how many more times I will watch her fall asleep before this, too, falls away. Finally, I whisper prayers over her – for her life, for her heart, for our time together, and make my way to bed.
The next day, I find her cleaning her room. I walk up and down the stairs, putting away laundry. On one of my trips up the stairs, I see a baby doll, wrapped in a pink blanket, sitting on the top step. I stop. She is most certainly placed there with great intention. This doll has been my daughter’s most precious possession since she was a preschooler.
She had named her “Baby Dear” from a story about a doll by the same name. Baby Dear had gone everywhere with us – the zoo, the park, the YMCA, church (and baptized multiple times!) – everywhere except for preschool when the doll had to remain in my care while her dedicated little mama was at school. Our morning preschool ritual eased our separation. My daughter issued elaborate instructions to me: “Remember to feed her! Put her down for a nap! And don’t bite her!” (My sister saucily asked why I had to be instructed to not bite the doll. I had no answer.)
I would make my way back to the car holding Baby Dear. On occasion, I had even been mistaken for having another baby, with the doll tucked under my arm. “My!” strangers would say to me, “I thought that was a real baby.” I would smile at them and nod. “I’m babysitting,” I would explain with a wink. In the midst of the bustle of herding my preschool aged children around, I savored the sweetness of that era.
But now Baby Dear looks like a baby carefully abandoned by its mother at a fire station. She is wrapped so tenderly, dressed in her best dress. She is even wearing shoes. I pick up the doll from the top step and touch her face gently. Peering around the corner into my daughter’s room, I find her busily cleaning out a bookcase. “You put Baby Dear on the step,” I say casually. She looks up at me with her big brown eyes, “Yes,” she says. She pauses. I can see her thinking. Her face is solemn. “Do you want me to take her downstairs and put her in the basement?” I ask. She nods. I work to make my face kind and encouraging and nod back. “Ok.”
The Move Downstairs
But I turn and clutch the doll to my chest, suppressing tears.
This doll, placed so tenderly on the step, is an offering to the passage of time, to growing up, to letting go. It hurts my heart. I don’t want it to come yet. Slowly, I make my way down the stairs, cradling the doll. In the basement playroom, I find a corner that has an assortment of doll items. I could pack all of this up. I know it is coming. Instead, I carefully lay Baby Dear into a crib, given to my daughter by my parents for her seventh birthday especially for this doll. I tuck a pink gingham blanket over her, and stand there for a while. I know, as we move into our next chapter, both of us will feel comforted knowing that the doll is still there waiting to be played with.
In the not too distant future, I will carefully package up sweet Baby Dear for safekeeping, hoping that some day I can give her back to my daughter for her own child to play with. That will be a sweet moment, I think. But in the meantime, I will babysit for Baby Dear, savoring sweet memories of a little girl with brown eyes and brown curls, trusting me with her most cherished doll.