Grief for the life I once led

Starting summer traditions early. August 2019.

My grief first crept in on a splash. We were at my aunt's house for a pool party on a perfect summer day, and my cousins' young children had been in the water since the moment they arrived. Twirling off the diving board. Turning on the jets in the hot tub. Leaping from adults' shoulders. Running-not-running along the outer edge. Barely pausing for food. Protesting when it was time to leave. Each dive, each shout, each whiff of chlorine, it all combined for a blue effect -- bright blue of water and sky in my eyes, and a melancholy blue in my heart.

The second instance came on a Friday after work. "Let's do something summery!" I begged my husband. "Let's go the beer garden." We picked up the baby from daycare early and headed straight for the neighborhood hotspot where every other local parent was apparently scratching the same itch. We chugged our beers before the baby could grab them. We attempted to feed him at the sticky picnic table. We contorted our bodies to keep him from staring at the big screen TV. The three of us were sweating all over each other, and we adults added burger grease to the occasion. The whole affair was hurried and harried, but by god, for a brief hour we were part of adult civilization. Yet as we drove home to get the baby bathed and in bed, my grief tightened.

The third moment materialized at the end of a long, tiring work day spent in a windowless room on a team retreat. I had to figure out alternate arrangements for breast pumping (enter the executive director's office) and returned to the room late, breast milk in hand, at the start of our afternoon session. Then, at day's end when we were on our way to happy hour and mere blocks from the bar, I remembered I'd left my milk in the facility's fridge. I hustled back a half mile to catch the staffers before they closed the building, hustled back to happy hour, shotgunned a glass of mediocre red wine, and bid adieu so I could make it home in time to see my child before he went to sleep. Later, I saw pictures on Instagram of my colleagues building Jenga towers at the bar and giggling about new shared jokes. My grief -- tired, sweaty, lonely -- congealed.

Summer has always been my favorite season because it signifies freedom. Freedom from early darkness, freedom from biting cold, freedom to enjoy meals and drinks outside, freedom to stay up late reading books, freedom to sit and do nothing near or in any available body of water.  Even as an adult with real responsibilities, I have always felt lighter during these months because the grooves in my brain forged from my past's most ideal summer days re-activate, promising that this carefree part of me does and always will exist as long as I nurture it.

But in this, my first summer of parenthood, I am finding it hard to believe the promise. With maternity leave and my return to work behind me, and the full reality of Parenthood-with-a-capital-P sinking in, I am finally absorbing the loss of my former life. Right now I can't play in the pool all day. I can't leave the house after dinner to get an ice cream cone. I can't wander to a watering hole with my friends. I have defiantly stayed up late reading pageturners, but I pay for it more dearly when my infant awakes at 4 a.m.

Where is my childhood? Where is my young adulthood? I can hear them in breezy leaves, feel them in sweat trickles and bug bites, taste them in cookouts and cooler beers, smell them in chlorine and salt water, but their presence is ephemeral, gone almost before I realize I'm experiencing a memory, not reality.

In a particularly blue moment, I asked into the void of Twitter if other parents, new or seasoned, have experienced this sense of loss. Here's what people replied:

"An old blueprint for a new life." "A beautiful if slightly teenage feeling." These descriptions not only validated my moodiness but lent it structure. I recognized the sensation for what it truly was: a signal that yes, things are different now; yes, I am in a new stage; and yes, my life will continue to evolve in unpredictable ways, forming new grooves next to old as pathways to a more varied, complex existence.

Ever impatient, I'd like to have the grooves settled now. But only time and experience and surprise will shape them, so I'll just have to wait. Wait, and imagine what's ahead. Wait, and mourn what's behind.

Prayer #338: Buried Treasure

Hand-drawn maps always make buried treasure seem thrillingly accessible, easily found beneath an exaggerated X, tucked deep enough to warrant enthusiastic digging but not so deep as to break a sweat.

Meanwhile, eager map readers gloss over the other meaning of "buried" -- to lay in a grave, to inter -- and understandably so. No one wants their adventure tainted with death, loss, or finality. They want to anticipate only their future wealth, practically assured by the clarity of the directions.

What happens, though, when the directions aren't clear? What if the route is more littered with obstacles than we thought? And in a cruel twist of expectation, what if treasure we had at journey's start has disappeared by journey's end because we had to bury it to keep moving?

Adventurous God, be with me as I bury the old and direct me as I discover the new, for the richest joys are also the deepest -- worth the wait and worth the effort.