Thu 10 Dec 2009
i have this suspicion i don’t talk about in polite company. i don’t say it aloud.
i don’t say it aloud because i hear you lurking in the cloakroom, you cackling voices of tweenage doom & gloom. these are the easy days! you caution, glorying in your foreknowledge of the horrors awaiting us, we who clearly lack the sense god gave chickens. i see your eyebrows arch, your voice drop gravely as you detail the backtalk, the rejection, the Hannah Montana concerts. and i shudder, and nod to your sage foreboding.
but i still think this parenting gig gets easier over time.
i know, i know. you scoff. you think me naive, a babe in the woods oblivious to the summer’s day that is soft baby bums and toddler trials. i’m not, not really. already, i see how quickly it speeds by, what gets lost.
i just keeping that having time to breathe is a decent tradeoff. and the heartbreak? that i’ll get inured eventually.
okay. NOW you can cackle.
it is late at night, a December storm. i get Oscar up to pee before i head to the sanctuary of my own sheets and the whistle of the wind on the other side of the cold wall.
he’s fully trained, has been for months, except for the teensy fact that neither his body nor an earthquake will raise him from slumber in the wee hours, unless he has a nightmare. and dry mornings come later than wet mornings, so his father and i are pleased to deliver him to the potty in the late evening so as to assure a little lie-in for all concerned. say, til 6:20.
i lift him, warm from the cocoon of his quilt, and heft him from the room, floorboards creaking. his sister stirs in the crib. his legs curl up like a small, solid frog, vestige of our human heritage as nomadic beings. we are still made to make carrying easier, even in our sleep.
if i am honest with myself, i like these nighttime potty excursions. this child is growing like a weed. before my eyes, he morphs weekly into something ever less toddlerlike, ever more boy. he spends half his days pretending to be a machine, the other half a dinosaur. he shouts commands like a drill sergeant, despite the fact that his parents obstinately refuse to comply. he is still when building tinkertoy wonders, when lost in a story or talking back to an episode of Blues Clues, but he is seldom touchable in repose. even in his infancy, there was little stillness to this child, little patience for the passive comfort of skin. he either snuggles like a roto-rooter or keeps to himself.
so the nightly marches to the bathroom, his arms around my neck, are sweet for me. i pet his back, breathe in his sweaty little head. i understand, in those moments, the mother in the oft-derided Love You Forever, who skeeves everybody out by crawling in her man-child’s window long after he’s moved out to rock him in his slumber. it’s a story of the heart, people. i won’t stalk him in his adulthood. but it is a human thing, the simple, heavy joy of holding your child, no matter how big. and it is a window closing fast, for me.
because this night, suddenly, he comes awake as i take him from his room. his head snaps back and his eyes focus, and instantly his body tightens, squirms from my arms with a No. I can WALK.
he is out of my arms and marching to the potty without further adieu. i follow, sit in front him as he slumps again almost into oblivion. then up, pulling his pants with both hands like a Beverly Hillbilly, small arm held out against my interference.
in the night light, i stand in the hall and watch him make his way back to bed. i blow him a kiss, then, when he’s knocked out again, sneak in and pull the quilts tight around him, one hand brushing his brow. i stop at the crib, where Posey coos and snuffles in her sleep.
i feel strangely useless, suddenly redundant. and i get it. this is how it’s going to be, for a hundred moments, a thousand, until the day i stop breathing.
i am not entirely sorry.
a day comes when the child no longer considers every object in his sightline a candidate in the choking hazard Olympics. eventually they learn to go downstairs on their feet, not their heads. and some morning will come, i promise myself each day whilst i try to apply mascara with neither eye focused on the mirror, when i can perform my rituals of personal grooming without anyone attached to my leg.
i do think sometimes the people who hearken back to the golden days of their children’s youngest years either had very slow-moving children, or are forgetting a lot. there’s simply no downtime with little ones, especially in the 12-30 month range. if they’re awake, you’re awake. if they’re moving, you’re moving, usually in three different directions. the ceaselessness of bodily needs, of mess, of sweetly inquiring hands stuck up your pants or in your hair.
when i try to imagine what apocalyptic turn of events could lead people to reminisce on these days as easy, i get nervous.
but then Oscar rejects me in the middle of the night, and i think i understand.
in a sense, parenting is about boundaries. or their absence. your infant wants to grizzle on your nipple twelve hours a day and keep you awake at two-hour intervals around the clock? you cope, blearily. and you become more useful to another human being than you’ve likely ever been in your life. heady stuff, that. you grow used to it, the intimacy, the interdependence.
and then they begin to outgrow it, somewhere around 11 pm on a Wednesday night when they are three-and-a-half. or, you know, every week from thereon in until they ultimately fly the nest. they develop their own boundaries against you, when you have so few against them.
and you sniffle a little and take to your bed and think, ouch. followed immediately by, does this mean soon we get to sleep in?
i know, i’m probably delusional. maybe this is the easiest age. maybe thirteen has been an absolute joy in your house. what do you think? is there any golden era where the balance mostly works out, where they fall somewhere between utter need and independence? or is this mostly a matter of how different personalities experience the reality of being needed and/or rejected?