A knock, two friends, a request:
Could you go to the creek with your pals, pretty please?
I glance at the open door. Two girls, one small, one smaller. Hello ladies, I say, and then I move with the speed of a jaguar. I grab my daughter into a two-armed embrace and pull her tight to me, her arms pinned at her side, and I run out the back door yelling, You can’t have my baby! And we hide in the shed until the threat, the two little girls one small, one smaller, has passed and me and my daughter go inside and cuddle and drink pink lemonade and
Except, of course I don’t.
I repress my urge to run and scream and vomit, behind a smile, not my prettiest.
Do you girls have permission to go to the creek, I ask, and heads nod in return; mums know, mums allow, so I must allow as well.
Sure honey, have fun; don’t go into the water, don’t talk to anybody you don’t know, and be back soon. I kiss the top of her head, but barely, because she’s already running out the door.
I look back at my husband, horrified and proud. I had to, I say, though he hasn’t asked. She’s nine.
Today, she is nine. I had to let her go to the creek with her friends. But yesterday, yesterday –
Yesterday, she was eight.
Yesterday, I would have said no. No, you can’t go to the creek with two friends, one small and one smaller, with no parents and rushing water and dangers awaiting, both real and imagined. Yesterday, it would have been no question. No way, Jose, I would have said, not without a parent. Not without me.
But today she is nine. And nine is different.
Nine is chapter books and email addresses and closed doors and loud music, and a rejection of clothes and activities as too babyish though I swear she loved them yesterday and a dismissal of my company, my protection, though I swear she needed that yesterday as well.
Nine is the halfway point between infancy and independence and that is where I am stuck, mired in the mud just the same as the mud I’m quite sure my baby must be sliding into right now, at the creekbed, without me.
I’m not surprised by all this, of course, though the churning in the hollow of my stomach is making me feel ill. I had nine months to prepare for her birth, and I’ve had nine years to prepare for this, prepare her for this, this very moment when she asks to go away from me and I say yes, though yesterday I would have said no, and does one day really make a difference you ask? She is smart and responsible and cautious, and one day makes all the difference. One day is the difference between eight and nine and no and yes.
And I want yes for her. I want yes for her entire life, and where must it start, if not with me, and a creek on the day she turns nine?
A tug on my shirt snaps me back from yesterday to today, from one minute ago to right now. Mum! It’s my six year old, tow-head tipped up towards me, blue eyes big and desperate. I want to go to the creek too, she says.
And she is six, and I think of how soon it will be before she too is nine, and life is filled with iPods and rolled eyes and trips to the creek with her friends, not mum, and all the yeses she can bear.
I take her hand, still small, in mine. Still mine. And I think of all the differences in just one day.
No, I say. Not today.