In the hazy and disorientated days immediately following Wesley’s death I was in many ways unable to care for Julia in any meaningful manner. I could only cry and stare into space with nothing much penetrating beyond my lifeless red rimmed eyes. My family took over the day to day activities of ensuring that Julia did indeed get fed, bathed and put to bed. One night as my mother lay in bed with Julia, she made up a story of Griselda the Mermaid. Griselda lived at our beach house and would come to shore while we slept, but as mermaids are shy natured creatures, she would dive below the green waters of the Gulf of Mexico at dawns first light. Griselda had a friend, Azure, who lived in the Great Lakes and would visit the warmer waters in winter months when the lakes froze over. Griselda’s adventures on the Beaches of South Walton were vast and unique and weaved a colorful tapestry of stories and tall tales and from that first story began a saga that endured for two years. I have privately thought that in some way those stories were a part of Julia’s grieving and her child-like way of processing the loss that tragically befell us. I think it is why they lingered so long, why that oral tradition continued beyond a day or week and why that particular magical and fantastical story would get told over and over in the months that followed.
Recently Julia and I were visiting the family beach house which was filled with extended family and bittersweet memories of my recently deceased grandmother whose toil and love built the house and family contained inside it. We were on the beach, her hair sandy and dripping with ocean water and she asked me to make her into a mermaid. She sat down in the sand, pink painted toes pointed toward me and I began scooping handfuls of moist and sticky sand piling it upon her slender legs. I asked if she had seen a pink flag flying on the mast as that was the surefire way to know if mermaids had been spotted. I patted sand into curving granular fins feeling the white sand, silky in my fingers. She said quietly, “I don’t think mermaids are real anymore…but I don’t know.” I looked at her and assured her that even if we cannot see something it does not make it less real, but I can tell that much like an older sibling keeps the wonder and joy of Santa or the Easter Bunny alive for younger brothers or sisters, Julia was providing the caveat of mermaid validity for my benefit, not her own. She is growing up and her sense of the world is changing and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
I know every mother, father and adult bemoans the growing up process with the younger generations and it is part of the maturation process to see babies develop into toddlers and little boys and girls to awkward teens and beautiful men and women. Who have their own darling babies and the cycle begins anew. But I struggle with it because I cannot fathom Julia’s growing up and fight with the urge to keep her perpetually 3 years old. In my minds eye she is smaller than she is in reality, she is more baby than little girl and she is the same as when Wesley was alive.
But Julia is growing up and is, despite my selfish machinations and desires, no longer a toddler on the brink of preschool but a young lady. She no longer pleads to watch My Little Pony and Sophia the First on TV but now clamors to see YouTube videos of arts and crafts projects she can replicate. She is tall and strong and smart and Wesley would be so proud of the little darling she has become.
He would chide me to not mourn her development, not to cry as she devours books that we bought for her as an infant in arms together dreaming of the day we would hear her sweet voice sound out words tentatively then with surety and confidence. I hear those words alone and I grieve the solitude of only having my two ears to hear them. But Wesley would tell me to embrace the changes, to smile at Julia’s lengthening limbs and broadening mind. He would love her inquisitive mind, so much like his mind, is burgeoning daily as she asks and wonders and ponders things that were not even a concept in 2013. I cannot will her to stay the child Wesley knew and cherished on earth because she is changed by his absence.
I try to find peace that I can loosen my grip on Julia and try, sometimes with a heart that is shattered and heavy, to find the love in the leaps forward. Julia is well adjusted and happy, so very happy, and lives in the moment fully and richly. From her I’m reminded that all we have a moments in our lives, moments to grasp the small hands in ours and to watch as they put aside loves of old to embrace adventures of new. To see the beauty in the boundless striving for knowledge and understanding. And should my growing babe decide that perhaps childhood is a place she wants to not flee too quickly from then Griselda the Mermaid will be waiting at the oceans shore.