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The Speed of Metaphors

Ten years ago I wrote that my daughter was a river:

My daughter is a river. She is whitewater and I am a canoe, struggling to stay upright. I can’t let the speed, the turns, or the swirling caps of white foam drag me under. My daughter is two going on ten going on sixteen, twenty-one. And I am at a loss, hoping to stay afloat.

How does one tame the wild without squelching the spirit? How does one balance in chaos? And how can I navigate this relationship so that I won’t wind up wild in the throes of this river myself?

Every motherly cliché reads before me now with perfect clarity. The collective words of wisdom of the ages: of stubborn, fearless, brilliant children; of the bedraggled parent, exasperation, sleepless nights, and mother’s guilt.

My goal for the day is to not let the current take me under. One day with no yelling. One day with enough time spent in quiet reflection and prayer that I won’t feel overwhelmed when the plastic cup of apple juice hits the floor – or when the second one splatters across the table. Or when the pull-up that should be dry, is drenched. Or when the clamoring calls of Mama, Mama, Mama come when I’m just trying to have five minutes to myself behind the closed bathroom door. Or when she tells me flatly, with eyes glazed over and hands firmly stuffed into her armpits – I don’t like you.

This is my goal.

My daughter might have different plans. Her plans will probably involve finding my make-up and hiding in the corner quietly so that I won’t hear her as she spreads foundation over her cheeks, her neck, over the fine strands of her hair, clumping them together like mud. She will probably follow this with an acrobatic bath time that will leave the bathmat sopping wet and my nerves frayed. Sit. Down. Please.

At meals, she will probably test my will by refusing to pray before she eats. By crossing her arms and declaring that she does not like the X that’s on her plate or the Y that I’ve poured into her glass. Both should be chocolate flavored or peppered with rainbow sprinkles.

But before all of this: I will pray. I will commit my ship, canoe, vessel, whatever the case may be, to the Lord and let him direct my path over this uncharted territory. I will have peace. I will have patience. Because this is a river he has forged, this is a life that he has breathed his spirit into.

And so am I.

This is the speed of life.

It is warmth and light and memory, sliding through sunrises and sunsets, speeding down highways and back roads and curving through mountains, breathless. I’m breathless. Is it pushing mid-July (already?) didn’t summer just start? My inbox has messages about co-op classes. Are we already talking about Fall? Can we pause? Can we get a breath? Can it not yet be time for apples and pumpkins and leaves falling and my son to be in high school?

My son, who is across the country away from me for the first time. I’ve titled the phone he’s carrying with him “Home 2” and my heart jumps when I see that contact has sent a message. Notes, slipping through invisible waves, across miles and time zones and over the Rockies. Part of my home, my heart, telling me he’s okay. He’s on a bus. It’s so hot. He’s having fun. Here’s a picture – mountains with cacti. Here’s a picture – he’s half cropped out, but his smile is larger than pixels can hold. Heres the Grand Canyon – so impressive, he tells us, you might even call Grand.

He’s funny.

And, also, when did he grow up? How have I missed this? It’s as though I’m sitting in the front row of a movie theater and the screen is so large and looming, that I’m in it. I’m right there, but my eyes can’t keep my focus on all of the things, the movements, the moments – they are all so close they blur together in flashes of color and bursts of sound. I hold my breath and wait for the pause – for the moment where the music drops and the cameras pull back and we see, slowly, what has transpired. Look. Look at the smoke rising. Look how the landscape has changed.

This is me, seeing my son – now that he’s far enough in the distance that I truly can.

My eldest daughter, the river, is now challenging me – but really – in things that matter, in things that she feels so deeply in her heart and her being that I can’t dismiss her with a timeout, with a snack, with a kiss on the head and a pat on the back. I can’t tell her she’s wrong when she isn’t. And, I’m learning that perhaps she isn’t the river after all.  She’s in it and flailing in its pull, just like me. And it’s all we can do to keep close together in the current, to keep fighting toward closeness, to not let the other be bruised or abandoned, to call out to one another when our hands separate.

We, I, keep waiting for the twist in the landscape, the turn that slows the current and the rocks big enough for us to climb up and rest and breath and be together, looking back at the distance we’ve traveled, at all of the landscape we’ve missed as we’ve been so furiously rushed forward, always forward.

Ten years ago, I only had these two personalities and a newborn in my arms – a sweet spirit with a question mark of who he would become. Ten years ago, my youngest daughter wasn’t even a thought.

Now, they’re each whirling bodies of energy that spin through time and space just as forcefully as their siblings, but with a mother who is more and more exhausted by the rapids and the looming movie screen and who only wants more time. More. Time.

Because, they aren’t subplots in our family or in their sibling’s stories, they are full-fledged characters in their own novels. And despite how many times I hear myself telling them – in a minute – just a moment – maybe – we’ll see – after I get this done – I can’t right now – if we have time – wait. I don’t want any of those things.  I don’t want to set them aside. I don’t want to be busy beyond my ability to be present, in every chapter that they’re penning with their spirits and their souls.

(And my goodness, does everything in my brain need to be a metaphor?)


Ten years ago, I remember writing this blog about my daughter being a river. I remember thinking, it will get easier. When she’s able to use the bathroom on her own. When she’s able to control her frustration. When there aren’t always messes to be cleaned and naps to be forced.

Instead, life has just kept happening, rushing and pushing and moving and I’ve had my hands slide from so many rocks as I’ve tried to rest. To breathe. To take it all in.

But, this…this is the speed of life.

And maybe it’s time to let go of any hope of it slowing down, and instead, recognize that if I blink, I’ll miss it.

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About the Author

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Writer, Photographer, Wife, Mother to four rambunctious and amazing children.

1 Comment so far

  1. Kathy Bailey

    This is good, Melanie. Something of what I experienced, what all parents experience, although I didn’t have sense enough to realize it at the time. Isn’t parenting THE adventure? Along with marriage, and Christianity in general.
    I’m not surprised that Lila is usually right.

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