My daughters are having a miraculous summer together. They are inseparable. They declare their love for one another in grandiose terms, each explicitly naming the other as her favorite person. The little one says of the big, "YOU'RE THE BEST SISTER OF MY LIFE" in the loudest voice she has. The big says to the little, "I like three things: pink, sugar, and you." They play happily together for hours, creating their own worlds and their own language. This is the summer they opted to sleep in bunk beds to be closer to one another, the summer they began to run to one another with their hurts instead of to their parents. This is the summer they decided to belong to one another rather than to my Smartner and me.
It's a honeymoon to which we're not invited. It is beautiful to watch, and it is painful to experience.
Now, I'm not naive. I knew this was coming. This was planned.
My Smartner and I both grew up only children* of divorced and remarried parents, and we know firsthand about being singletons. We know the benefits - the attention, the receipt of all parenting resources, the freedom to develop in the absence of sibling competition and comparison. We also know the drawbacks - the scrutiny, the loneliness, the inverted triangle of intergenerational responsibility that we bear as our parents—all of them—could depend on us as they age. And we decided consciously through a series of long talks when our oldest was 2 that we would aim for a family of four. A balance of four pillars contributing to and holding up the family. A kids' team to balance the parents' team. A geometric symmetry of partnership, support, and strength. For us, 4 is the magic number.
This summer, this coherence of affection, is what we aimed for in those late-night talks 5 years ago. And it worked. It's here. The usual 1:1 (a kid and a parent) or, more often, 2:1 (2 kids and one parent) family dynamic we shared since our younger Smartling's birth has shifted. Now, more often, the dynamic consists of The Daughters off on their own with one or two parents on call in the background. It's what we hoped for. It's what we designed.
And yet it hurts. I didn't see it coming this soon. This destined moment arrived so suddenly, and its shock aches.
It's summertime, and my children are always here. I am always with them. But now I am just outside their two-body mutual orbit, looking in, waiting to be drawn back within their trajectory. We are always together, and I miss them. After all the years of wanting a break, a moment to myself, some first-personhood, now I long for them even when they're in the next room. They're so deep within their beautiful sisterhood, as they should be, and I am stunned at how quickly I have been moved to the shallows. My older daughter reads her sister her bedtime stories. The younger fetches tissues and ice packs to soothe the older's owies. It is gorgeous, and it wounds.
It should. That's what cleaving is. A wound. A split. A growth that cracks and rends.
And it heals. That is also what cleaving is. A mend. A stitch. The slick sheen of scar tissue that knits together torn flesh.
I will always be their mother. Even as their loving sisterhood grows and wanes, comforts and irritates, I will be constant. Even within the tumult of my relationships with my girls, I will remain mother. It's my duty. It's my pleasure. And it's my bittersweet pain.
They are always my babies. Always will be. I carry the specific, permanent weight of them in my belly, on my shoulder, in my arms, in my cellular memory. They are forever as they first were.
But they were never my babies. Never. They have always been their own specific, essential selves. From my older girl's tentative, curious, thoughtful probings of the outside world through a foot, a palm, pressing against the interior of my skin, she has always been her. From my younger's rollicking, bed-shaking intrauterine gymnastics rippling my flesh like a rogue wave, she has always been her. They are them.
They are mine. They were mine. They are one another's. They are their own.
They leave scars breaking my orbit as they did when leaving my body.
Since the 15th century, Japanese artisans have practiced the art of kintsugi, in which the cracks and broken seams of pottery are repaired with precious metals - gold, silver, platinum. What is broken becomes treasure by virtue of its flaw, by virtue of its glimmering healing.
And so it is with motherhood, with parenthood, with family. We leave one another, we hurt one another. We return to one another, we heal one another. We mend our rifts in silver, our fractures in gold. We gleam all the brighter from where we once bled.
They were never mine. I am always theirs. And from the faults where this truth freshly breaks, I learn to shine.