A few weeks ago my husband and I were at dinner when I had a dawning realization.
“Honey. I haven’t heard Scarlette talk about Tyler in…more than a month,” I said
He sat thoughtfully for a minute and then replied, “Yeah, you’re right. Neither have I.”
“Do you think…do you think it’s over?” I asked hesitantly.
“I think it might be over,” he answered solemnly.
Tyler is four years old, has bright green hair, and likes to sit on our chandelier during dinner. He’s been living with us since Scarlette was three years old, which equates to four years but he has been four years old for the entire time. I’m not entirely sure why he never ages but he’s basically like our own little version of Tuck Everlasting.
No one can see Tyler except for Scarlette but everyone talks to him because Tyler is a member of the family. Mostly, though, Scarlette talked to Tyler. She kept up a running conversation with him all day long. Fairly often I’d think she was talking to me and ask, “Scarlette, what did you say?” and she’d reply, “I’m just talking to TYLER, Mommy” and then return right back to having a very animated discussion with the air.
And Tyler was really quite full of antics because it turns out that whenever shenanigans were afoot in our house, it wasn’t Scarlette that was the source of them. It was Tyler. “Definitely Tyler,” she would say, somehow emphatically casual about the whole thing.
His presence was a certainty, I’ve cut pieces of toast up just the way he likes it and I’ve waved goodbye to him as I left the house. For several years every single portrait drawn by child-sized hands has depicted all of the members of our family, plus Tyler. Once I had to write a clarifying note to a teacher after Scarlette filled Tyler’s name in the space beside the word “siblings.”
“I thought the baby’s name was Ridley?” the teacher wrote in the margin.
And then, quite suddenly (though it must have been slow) I sat at dinner and realized that Tyler hadn’t been at the table in a long while.
The next morning I took Scarlette out on our monthly Mommy & Daughter Date and nonchalantly asked her what Tyler was up to.
There was a long pause from the backseat and then Scarlette said haltingly, as though she really hated to have to be the bearer of bad news, “Um, Mommy? You and Daddy do know that Tyler was INVISIBLE, right? Like, pretend?”
And that’s why I bought myself a venti vanilla chai that morning, to drown my sorrows in sugar on account of how it broke my heart right into pieces.
Then I decided I needed to break the news to J, and because I’m super thoughtful I texted him this:
“I think Tyler has gone the way of Bing-Bong,” I typed, and there aren’t any emojis adequate enough to express my wistful melancholy about the whole thing.
I may or may not have subsequently turned my iPod to play throwback Michelle Branch and driven home all, “GOODBYE TO YOU, GOODBYE TO EVERYTHING I THAT I KNEW.”
(I am not at all melodramatic.)
Then Scarlette was like, “Mommy is this your OLD music?” which made me even weepier because clearly I was trying desperately to cling to my youth as she was outgrowing parts of hers.
Later that week, my husband told me that Scarlette had confided in him that Tyler “just sort of doesn’t exist, actually.”
It is both beautiful and bittersweet to be in this phase of her childhood, where she sits across from me and sips her hot chocolate while carrying on a mature conversation, but then offers pretend bites of her food to the doll she brought along to the restaurant.
Where she stomps her foot at me and blows out a breath so huffy it flips up her bangs but then comes close and takes my hand without prompting as we walk through a parking lot, interlacing her fingers with mine.
Where she tries out calling me “Mom” instead of “Mommy” on occasion and I pretend don’t allow it but secretly grieve knowing it’s inevitable that the second syllable will soon slip away.
Everyone says don’t blink or you’ll miss it but the thing is, I didn’t blink.
I didn’t blink, I drank it in, every last bit of it because once it was almost taken away from me and so I watched it all wide-eyed with wonder, maybe because I wanted to be a bit like how Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
And still it went so fast. And now she is seven and Tyler is only four in our memories.
And I’m just hoping we can take her to the moon.
I wrote it all down, I’ve been telling stories about Scarlette since the minute she made me a mother, and I’ve been lucky enough to have them all bound up and grace bookshelves.
For as long as I could remember, I dreamed of having my own magazine column and this summer ParentLife Magazine offered me just that, a space called Mom’s Life where I could keep telling stories about motherhood and the way it sparks joy in me, the way it sanctifies me.
I thought they were only giving me a sliver of a page, a single column of text marching down a corner. I flipped through the first issue of the magazine and closed it without ever finding my feature. “I think they bumped me,” I told my husband sadly.
Then we flipped it open again, in case I missed it, and saw the full page spread bearing my byline, an entire page filled with the hope and hilarity that Scarlette fills my days with. Motherhood and writing, all my dreams.
Look at her, taking me to the moon.
(P.S. You can subscribe to ParentLife here)