Last night, I shifted through some old toys from my daughter’s closet. My eye caught the dull yellow of the faux cereal box and my fingers touched the mini-silver pots and pans and in my head I heard her five-year-old voice say, “Momma, do you want to play tea party?” This moment is only a speck in my rearview mirror, but yet, the texture of this experience pierced my gut. These toys weren’t in a bag by accident. Every year we embark on a decluttering trip around the house. We discard, donate and purge what we don’t need. My daughter decides what she wants and would like to give away – she chose, at almost-eleven, to part with her kitchen toys.

But this parting brought an unexpected sentimental pause for me. The montage of her countless hours playing “kitchen,” feeding us plastic potatoes, cheese and desserts disappeared into a white garbage bag, the physical and sentimental ushered out in a moment. It’s that quick, I thought, this vessel of time. In six years my little girl will head to college, empty nest will come like a guillotine, even though from the moment she was born I’ve spent every single day letting her go. Motherhood is a simultaneous joy and sadness – the consummate arrival into one place and departure from another.

Neither mother or daughter can press pause. Time is the universal remote control. It will never offer either of us a chance to rewind to those oh I wish I could hold her as a baby just one more time or I’d love to see the exact second she walked across the green pasture or witness her piercing her lips together in a pucker when she tried her first lemon. Motherhood is always yelling, “You can’t go back.” I’ve tried to muster a mutiny by taking photographs, memorializing the milestones in this space and creating scrapbooks. It’s an exercise to cushion my fall, I know, when she’s away, the flight of free will underneath her feet, traversing unconquered terrain on her own, without her mother or father telling her what to do or how to act or making sure she’s fed, warm and comfortable.

I close my eyes, taking a second to imagine my daughter as an adult. It’s a quick visit because itistoomuchallatonce. I redirect my attention to the toys she’s still kept, the paintbrushes, board games and the rain stick I gave her from Sedona. Inside her room I see her cuddly blanket and stuffed bear – the two items she turns to at night. The sight of these snapshots of childhood give me brief comfort.

I know it is happening even though my eyes dart everywhere, in corners and crevices, finding dolls, old artwork and baby clothes.

She’s not a little girl anymore, but I can’t bear to utter these words out loud, especially in her presence. I take what I can get. I ask if I can kiss her on the cheek or give her an impromptu hug and try to snuggle with her in the morning – when she lets me. Her pathway is streaked with a capital I – Independence – momma is mom, the door to her room closes when she wants privacy and she dives into the tween world of bold statements and pushing forward into molding her own likes and dislikes.

I clasp my hands together – somehow thinking I can hold time between my fingers, keeping Pandora’s box closed. It’s futile. Instead, I linger over the toys, just one more time, setting up the tea party in my head, sipping it all with intention, half-smiling and remembering. I stay here for a moment, not crossing into the seconds that tick forward, but relishing the pretend pastry in my mouth.

The next minute I am taking the garbage bag filled with toys into the garage, creating space for what’s to come.

Oh, almost-eleven, in less than a month.