Our voices clash early in the day, her nine-year old exasperation fading into a dismissive sigh before she exits. I’m left standing in the kitchen wondering if she’s heard a word I said in the voice I used, several octaves higher than usual out of frustration.
This happens more frequently lately, along with her jeans growing too short and her shoes too small. My first- born child, whose mind I believed I could read in the years before she could speak, is moving beyond my comprehension. Now that she has words, we are losing our ability to truly communicate.
I know this is progress in its own way, growth a necessary part of living, but I am determined to find a way for us to hold onto each other. We need an exit plan from the current situation, a respite from the new normal of our days.
Night falls on our home, and she sits at the table drawing her own comic. Our day has been strained, and it’s ending rapidly.
“Do you want to go on a bike ride?” I ask.
She peers out the window. “Now? It’s dark.”
“That’s the fun part.”
She shrugs while simultaneously smiling and darts to grab her helmet.
Outside, she starts to take the lead as she does on our sporadic daytime rides. Suddenly, she hesitates.
“Where should we go at night?”
“Anywhere. You still lead.”
I can tell from the set of her shoulders that my answer pleases her, which is a first on this particular day.
The canal in our neighborhood is our immediate destination, and she wonders aloud where the ducks go at night. No answer available, we ride on. She opens her mouth to speak and I ride close enough to catch every word, no longer worried their sole intent is to wound me.
“I think Daniel Tiger was right, as much as I hate to admit it.”
“Things are special and different at night,” she says, giggling as she recites words from the Daniel Tiger song her younger siblings sang all day.
She’s right. She is talking about the moon reflecting on the water, the hazy streetlights that emit warm orange orbs onto the concrete path. I am thinking of her, how the low light of the evening hours draws a different picture of her to my eyes.
Her legs are long, her body elongated by sudden growth. Her jaw is strong and she has a make-up-my-own-mind presence about her, one I taught her. She leads, competent and willing, and I follow.
We arrive home, shivering from the winter chill but not wanting to go in. The bike ride feels like a portal to another world, one where neither of us lives or dies by being right, where I can take her exasperation at the smallest thing for what it is: her growing up and, eventually, going where I can’t follow.
Days after the bike ride, she heads to the backyard in a tank top in 35-degree weather.
“You can’t wear that in winter. You need a jacket,” her dad says.
She stops and turns her head slowly, hand still on the door knob. I don’t say a word about her shirt knowing if she gets cold she’ll come inside, but it’s me she targets with an eye roll on the way out of the room to grab a jacket.
“Why me?” I ask, as I follow her down the hall. “I’m not the one who said anything.”
She shakes her head and doesn’t answer. Again, we have no words.
I realize whatever magic we’ve found on our night journeys will have to be applied regularly.
We don’t have lights on our bikes, and while this was a mild concern when my husband thought we’d only be doing this night ride thing once, it seems to really concern him now.
I, the safety obsessed one, am willing to risk it. We need our night journeys like we need to breathe in cold clear air, and I am willing to stick to low traffic areas and wave my cell phone flashlight to escape with her. However, as I notice the fog obscuring even more of the blue-black night sky, I give up on bike riding, but not the journey.
“We can walk. Wear bright colors. We won’t be moving as fast and won’t be in the street.”
“Deal,” she says.
She leads us to the neighborhood playground, and I surprise her by plopping down in a swing. She joins me, and we’re flying in the night air, dizzied by the height and motion. Her hair flies in the wind, and pieces of a poem I read in college by Linda Pastan titled “To a Daughter Leaving Home” come to mind. Watching her daughter ride her bike away from her, Pastan wrote about the child’s hair “flapping behind you like a handkerchief waving goodbye.” But my girl, she’s not gone yet.
We will continue to walk out, ride away, her leading us down the roads we’ll follow. Our breaks from regular life, where I try to spread myself across the needs of four children and she figures out how to be a tween while embracing her roles as daughter, big sister, girl-on-the-verge, are essential. In these moments I look to her, she looks to me, and I remember what is important: we are alike and we are different. She is from me but fully her own. She loves me, and we’ll be okay.
Kristy Ramirez is a mother of four who writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, grocery lists, and love letters. Her work has appeared online in Literary Mama, Mamalode, and SheLoves Magazine, among other places. Find her at Livesinprogress or on Twitter.