i dreamed last night that she was all grown up.

i wasn’t any older. or i don’t think i was: i never caught sight of myself. the only reflective surfaces were her eyes. her exact blue almond eyes, only bigger, like anime. i could not see myself.

my imagination balks at the conjecture of my own becoming, of looming middle age. but this was Josephine, no other. just the two of us, in women’s bodies, in some timeless place.

they were beautiful eyes. i told her so. she glared back at me, baleful and adolescent, wary of being made out to be something other than she was. i met her gaze and for a moment i was confused, bewildered, bereft. how had we gotten here, to this squared-off stance, to these opposite sides in a conversation i couldn’t even remember? hadn’t she only that morning propelled herself small and round and  into my arms, tiny hands flapping, all glee and shouts and prime directives?

i reached out for her. there was glass between us, suddenly, primary colours washing her skin. and i was afraid.

some part of me knew i was dreaming. some other part of me knew better.

i didn’t think i was afraid of the teenage years.

i work with late adolescents, just starting out at university. i used to teach high school. i remember, still, vividly, the angry, caged, abandoned howl that choked the words off in my throat at fourteen, when the teacher slammed me up against the cinderblocks of the school gym and i knew there was no recourse.

i entered parenthood afraid. the first time i laid eyes on Finn, he was being whisked away from me in a shower of blood and alarms. fifteen yellow-suited specialists ran into the room in a neonatal code ballet. they took him away, to the NICU. one came back to say he would not make it through the night.

we had our hour, where i held him. i sang. mama’s gonna buy you a billy goat…and if that billy goat don’t…

i didn’t know what came next.

i didn’t know what a child would want with a billy goat, or a diamond ring, for that matter. my child needed lungs better than those he had. i had only stupid billy goats to offer, and my arms.

i held him until the machines said he was gone, until the nurses said go to bed. it’s nearly morning.

the one bargain i have with the gods and the fates is this: please let that morning be the hardest i ever know as a parent.

when Oscar came, and Posey after, there was colic. long nights i revisited my own blind helplessness. i was desperate to salve and soothe and ease. i could not. the billy goats and looking glasses could not. even my arms made no appreciable difference.

i was afraid.

but these two i kept, they grew. they began to laugh and speak and interact, and i did not feel so helpless, so afraid. i know them, now. their curiosity, their sweetness. they are ying and yang all mixed up, risk-aversion and fearlessness, stubbornness and patience, each a wonder and a challenge. Josephine tests the scope of her small voice, gleeful and shouty. she slaps her thighs, kicks at the world. she knows exactly where she wants to go, repeats every word i say. i call her my mockingbird, and the sting of the song eases just a little.

i have been thinking it will get easier, this gig. i have been thinking that i will rock at parenting teenagers, because i know how to sit alongside them when their shoulders hunch and they lash out or turn away. i am better with a crying teenager, i tell myself, than a crying baby.

i begin to believe that the dumb luck that got them here will hold, that my days of fear are done. that my hardest morning as a parent is behind me.

then i read about Henry Granju, nineteen and beautiful and brilliant and drug-addicted in spite of all his mother’s love and help and hope, and i see. you do not get to pay your dues and just walk off into the sunset.

i dream of Josephine, grown and unreachable. and i wake and think of Katie Granju on this hardest morning of her parenthood, waking to the realization that it is true and Henry is gone.  and i whisper to the ether, mercy.

go hold her up, give her your billy goats and your arms. make no mistake, there but for the grace of god or fates or sheer dumb luck go we all.