And you should let it.
It’s only a sock, and a tiny one at that. From toe to orange-and-blue striped top, it barely stretches from the heel of my palm to the second knuckle of my middle finger. Yet my eyes start to tear at the sight of it.
There’s the green streak where my daughter, newly walking, stumbled while running down a grassy hill. A brown, kidney-shaped spot reminds me of a torn toenail, clipped too late. Formerly white, afternoons of ankle-deep immersion in sand and water have left it gray, as if it’s been dipped in cement.
Parenthood can be a heart-breaking business, if we allow it to be. It can touch us in places we didn’t know existed, arouse demons we thought were dead, and catapult us to previously unexplored heights. Being a mom or a dad can leave us with moistening cheeks, trying to extract memories from a miniature sock as if we were thumbing through a photo album.
The alternative—pretending that our kids haven’t just cracked open the biggest jar of love we’ve ever dipped our paws in—isn’t really an option. It would be disingenuous to act as if the changes brought on by parenthood are purely logistical, that our schedule, our pocketbook, and our sleep patterns are the only things that have been affected by our kids’ arrival.
We don’t really want our children to stay little, though I suspect that fantasy makes a regular appearance in all parents’ thoughts. Even the most cynical parts of us know that life contains too much beauty and possibility to be lived from the perspective of an infant or toddler for too long. It’s that we want to immerse ourselves in those moments when the air is so thick with love between us and our child that the cares of adult existence—mortgages, bosses, wars—melt into the background.
Parental heartbreak isn’t about living in the past. Like any other loss, it’s an opportunity to remember the depth of our own tenderness and wonder at how little things, like a three-inch long sock, can move our soul.