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"I Won't Grow Up"

Our older daughter turned 15 last weekend. I wish I could say it was a joyous occasion for her, hitting this milestone birthday, but it wasn't.

Not even when we were surrounded by family all weekend, and everyone was showering her with generous birthday love.

Even from afar, family and friends greeted her.

She was upset, although she tried very hard to overcome it. Which is to say, she enjoyed the revelry for what it was, but not for what it represented.

"I don't want to be 15," she said. Or 16, 17, or 18, for that matter. "I don't want to grow up."

This statement harkened back memories of taking her to see "Peter Pan", the musical, when she was 6 or 7. I remember her complete fascination with the main character, which started in her toddler years all the way through grade school. She sang along with gusto to the song "I Won't Grow Up" with Peter and the Lost Boys. She was thrilled when he sprinkled us with fairy dust.

She has always been a child whose imagination ran wild in the realm of alternate reality. She maintained, for years, even when she was old enough to know better, that when she grew up, she wanted to be a dragon.

I thought her reluctance to grow up this time was just more of the same "silliness".

But then I realized that her sister has not been herself for a few weeks now.

My Little Miss Independent has been sleeping in my bed for the last 3 weeks. Also? She has driven me up the wall lately with all her requests for assistance. For things like carrying her lunch bag. Or braiding her hair. (I do not recall the last time she asked me to fix her hair in over 2 years.) Or getting her a snack (which she has done by herself since she was big enough to open the pantry door).

She is 12 1/2 years old, and she has been stuck to me like Velcro. Literally.

As has her older sister, actually.

Arms around me when I am trying to do things. On my lap when they find me sitting down. Hands holding mine even when we are just sitting and talking.

Asking for hugs 100 times a day. Or at least, it feels like 100 times.

I get it.

It's January.

In a few days, we will mark 2 years since Mike died. With it, 2 years of our steady departure from our life with him.

Which to my kids? Is the same as saying "goodbye" to their childhood. Mike was such an integral part of their magical childhood. Truly, it is not a stretch to call it magical. Because it was.

Mike was so involved, so loving, so influential. Together, we worked hard to make lasting memories with our kids. We also somehow created a life together that was vibrant with love and humor, as happily married people often do.

It is also the way of people who waited until they were ready to have kids. Who wanted them badly before they were even conceived. Who were not spring chickens when they finally became parents. (Mike was 40 when we became parents for the first time.)

We "enjoyed the heck" out of our kids. This is something we used to say each other: "I am enjoying the heck out of these kids!"

We joked about ruining them for life. And how this was our prerogative. (Our older daughter refuses to drink water without ice -- a direct influence of Mike's.)

Needless to say, our household has not been the same, although I hope it is still filled with love and humor.

It breaks my heart every time I think of what our daughters have lost and will live without, so I don't visit that place very often. But this month? It is practically all I can think about. Especially as I watch them struggle.

My grief for my kids' loss often feels greater than my own. It is unquantifiable. Immense.

I am trying very hard to be patient with them. I know they are hurting and missing their Dad this month, especially.

Their grief has crept up on them, I think. It is evident in their unusual behavioral changes.

I have realized, these last two years, that what your brain does not remember, your body does. For example, exactly one year after Mike was intubated, I found myself puking my guts out in my bathroom. All day, I had been feeling sick to my stomach. It was only later that I realized that this was a "hard date". An anniversary I hate to relive.

I wouldn't be surprised if my kids' trauma from this time two years ago is having an effect on their behavior, even if they are not actively thinking about it.

But more than this, I think, they have equated growing up to leaving Dad behind.

This is why one of them has verbally said, "I don't want to grow up." It is why the other won't go to sleep without a new, very elaborate hugging ritual with me.

It is why baby-talk is coming out of their lips, and I stifle any criticism of their sometimes unintelligible (and frankly, annoying) speech.

I know this will pass.

And if not? More therapy for everyone.


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