Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Growing Jane
by Marion Winik

Yesterday while we were horsing around on the floor, my eighteen month old daughter Jane accidentally banged her head into my jaw. When she saw the look on my face, her blue eyes grew round and she covered my cheeks with baby kisses. Utterly undone, I closed my eyes and tried to imprint those kisses into my memory: the softness of her skin, the lightness of her touch, the little kissing sound her lips made, the smells of pear baby shampoo and milk breath.

If you have ever loved someone who was going away, someone you were bound to lose, you will know how I felt, how I feel every day when I look at her, my precious baby girl.

Let me hasten to say that neither of us is ill, nor am I about to start a long sentence in the federal penitentiary. She is a normal, healthy child, growing and developing at the breakneck pace toddlers are famous for ó and thatís exactly what Iím talking about.

Jane the infant is already gone. She has been replaced by Jane the tyke, and Jane the two-year-old is on the way. Just beyond her is Jane elementary schooler, and soon after, Iíll have a young soccer player or poet or pianist. Someday, God willing, my grown daughter will stand as tall as I do. And when that happens, the tiny person I love so passionately will live only in photographs, home videos, and in my mind.

I donít disagree with the notion that you can see lifelong personality traits in a baby early on: a strong will, a placid soul, a hatred of stupid hats are sometimes noticeable in the delivery room. But even given certain consistent characteristics, I would still say the baby disappears.

The continuity of growth is deceptive. Though each phase of Janeís development flows smoothly from the one before it, and today never seems that far from yesterday, with each new level she attains, part of her younger self is left behind forever. We focus on the skill thatís gained, but there is always something lost too. Some sound will never be made again. Some facial expression or funny way of addressing the cat has vanished. The little hands, the little feet Ė remember them well. Because that body in the bathtub is turning into a bigger body that will very soon only shower behind a locked door.

I have a couple of those, sons aged 14 and 11, which is how I know what Iím talking about. My 14 year old, Hayes is 5'9" and 160 pounds. Our relationship is close and often warm: we spend lots of time together, do lots of algebra problems and driving around and laughing together, also get furious with each other because we have very different rhythms and approaches to life and for Godís sake, heís an adolescent boy and Iím his mother.

But the little guys I nursed and potty-trained and took baths with, the one who had such a hard time giving up his pacifier, the one who said "butcept" and "prentzel," the ones who were so close they still felt like a part of my body for years after I delivered them: where are they?

I remember when Vince was little, I wrote a poem for him called Little Guru from Outer Space. The little guruís gone back to his home planet now.

My baby Vince is a memory -- a memory I have when I look into his eyes, or into my heart. He is a memory of mine, not even of the boy he is today.

The other day I pulled up in front of the house to give Hayes a ride to school and saw something that gave me a start: a good-looking young man in a shirt and tie carrying a little blond baby on his hip. It was Hayes and Jane, he dressed for an away basketball game, she coming along for the ride. That boy loves his little sister so much. He drops everything for her, he indulges her, he dotes on her, and he actually says things like "I love you, my homie." When I see them together, I see something amazing. I see the father growing inside him.

I tried to imprint that picture, as I did Janeís baby kisses. I love them so much and they are changing so fast. This is all I will have left.
After 20 years in Austin, the hometown of her heart, Marion Winik lives in a farmhouse in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania with children and stepchildren ranging in age from barely two to 14.  Winik is the author of The Lunch-Box Chronicles and Rules for Unruly.