Once I found a diamond.
It was on our living floor, nestled into the tight weave of our area rug. Never an amazing house keeper, I could have lived alongside that diamond for months and never known it. But I had newborn preemies I’d set on a play mat in the middle of the floor to encourage them to swat at toys while their eighteen month old brother hobbled around the living room on fat, stubby legs. I spent loads of time on that floor.
With infants too sick for many visitors, the list of possible owners was slim. I went through the pile of pages that had amassed on the counter from the therapists who’d come visit: occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy. Each page was a receipt listing their purpose for the visit, the progress, assignments of things for me to work on, signed hastily on the bottom in an eligible scrawl.
After three calls I found the owner.
“Hi. This is going to sound weird but … did you lose anything? Because I found something.”
She wept. She’d just gotten engaged, and the stone had belonged to her fiance’s grandmother. Even just buying the setting had been extravagant for them. I cried with her in relief.
I’d entirely forgotten about that. The memory had slipped away, like the names and faces of all those therapists and their PT assignments, like the sounds of baby voices and the smell of breastmilk. That memory had gone to the curb alongside three cribs, four high chairs, two diaper pails and two swings. Since then my children have learned to walk and talk, to feed themselves, and get dressed. They have grown into new clothes, new toys and games.
And all along the way I’ve been right there on the floor next to them.
“Here, come to Mama,” I said as they took their first steps.
“Sound it out, every letter,” as they finally learned to read.
“Hold my hand because the cars can’t see you,” as we crossed the street.
Just balance and pedal, turn your head out of the water for a breath, two bunny ears around and through the hole, preheat the oven before you make the batter.
We have moved to a new town, a new state, graduated nursery school and headed off to elementary school in that time. That diamond feels like an eternity ago.
Knowing all that, this summer has still left me off kilter. They come and go of their own volition, “Mom, we’re heading down to the beach!” my ten-year-old son says. “We’re headed to the tire swing with the neighborhood kids,” my seven-year-old daughter tells me. “We’re going to the farm stand,” hollers one of the eight-year-old twins. They go in pairs (house rules) but still, off they go.
Where did those tiny preemies go? The chubby toddler? The children who needed me for every last bit of everything in their lives?
Yesterday afternoon I picked them up from day camp and they all regaled me with stories about their day, new friends, silly camp songs. I took them shopping for swim goggles and their own supply of gimp, then brought them to the pool to swim. We dove and splashed, chasing each other, building rafts out of swim noodles. We headed home and they showered themselves and then they made their own burritos, put their dishes in the dishwasher before brushing their own teeth.
After they’d gone to bed and I’d sorted the wet towels and bathing suits, put water shoes and sneakers into cubbies, lined sunscreen and water bottles up for the morning, I finally sat down to reflect on the day.
I put the back of my hand to my mouth and rubbed my engagement ring along my lips. It was then that I noticed that the diamond was missing. It was the ring my father had given my mother on their 25th wedding anniversary, the ring I’d worn alongside my wedding ring for over fifteen years.
My horror was immediate, that off-balance feeling when you know you’ve forgotten something important or when there’s been an accident and the fault is yours.
I got out a flashlight and retraced my steps, went back to the pool, crawled through the bathroom, ran my fingers along the drain, looked in the grass, under the edges of carpets, along the floorboards.
I called people at every place we’d been all day, and I could hear it in their voices. This thing was gone.
But as I lay down in bed wondering how I could ever fall asleep, I remembered that diamond on my rug from so many years ago.
It’s out there, I thought. It’s somewhere. It never goes away, no matter how much it’s lost to you in the moment. It’s still out there.
There are all these things intangible in our lives, my father’s love for my mother, my love for my husband and children, the days, months, years we spend doing the smallest deeds over and over for one another, parenting, care-giving, loving. It’s like carbon dioxide molecules buried 100 miles under the earth’s surface, crushed and broiled and shot to the surface in a process that no one ever sees but that somehow makes… a diamond.
It’s what I think I’ve been telling myself about my children’s growing independence. It’s the thing that brings me comfort. All those hours spent on the rug next to them, all the teaching and talking and leading and loving, these things never go away. Each lesson taught is a brick in their foundation, more enduring even than a diamond. I see it in the way they take care of each other when they think I’m not there, in the way they watch, consider, and then proceed with confidence.
While their growing independence can feel like a loss if you let it, if you’ve got faith and fortitude, it can be a treasure found.
(And about that diamond. It enjoyed 20 hours of freedom rolling around the mudroom floor amidst flip-flops and rainboots before it was found and returned to its deserving owner, me. If it had been my phone, it'd still be missing.)