When you are in the middle of creating your family the idea of ever having a time when there won’t be somebody needing a diaper or needing a bottle or needing something will never happen. It feels like this marathon to which there is no finish line. When you’ve stopped having children, in that moment, somebody starts the stopwatch and your time begins to tick down. Every day is one less day you will have with your kids. Every last shoe that you tie is one less you will do in the future. Suddenly there is a finish line, and it feels like it is rushing towards you faster than you ever imagined. Perhaps I’m more aware because I’m an older mother, perhaps this is the natural progression of parenthood. I don’t know, I just wish my kids didn’t have to get any older and that time could stop right now.
You just turned 10 years old. You keep trying to convince me that this makes you a “pre-teen” but I refuse to acknowledge the term or the classification. This has frustrated you to no end and is quite symbolic of how you feel — one foot firmly stuck in childhood and one pulling you into adolescence. You have ushered into an age of fear. You are worried about EVERYTHING. The world has become this large, scary place that both excites you and frightens you. You are as likely to tell me that you want to go hang gliding as you are to tell me that you are scared of the dark. You want to know about the origin of mankind but also blindly believe in the Tooth Fairy. You will back talk me one second and reach for my hand the next.
Although this yin-yang of your personality is challenging and quite perplexing it is also the dynamic that I admire most about you. Because if I had to choose one word to describe you Lucy it would be courageous. Yes, you are scared and fearful and worried but that doesn’t stop you. I’ve seen you stay strong, in the face of what would be paralyzing fear in others. This inner strength, this lioness that lurks deep within you is your most amazing quality. It is your strength paired with your delicate sensitivities and natural nurturing personality that has you defending your baby sister one second and holding her hand the next.
Although I have begun to mourn the passing of your childhood I eagerly await the young woman you are about to become, because you will amaze the world.
You turned 8 this year and although I struggle to keep up with your age I can no longer ignore it. You’ve grown so much physically and emotionally that I’m starting to see hints of what you will be like as a man. Your big bear hugs are becoming less common as you become aware of the fact that it isn’t cool to hug your Mom. Your tears flow less often, with your frustration now being expressed as anger. Your stutter is still there but you seem to be less self conscious of it. You have struggled to figure out who you are but I’m starting to see your strengths bubble to the surface. You’ve developed a love of robotics and engineering. You want to know how things work, how they break, how they are built and are fascinated with any toy or tool that reinforces this idea.
In many ways you are getting to be a big boy, wanting to play rough with your friends, stay home by yourself and do other “big boy” things and yet so much of “little Max” is still there that I can’t help but to still baby you. Your tears break my heart and your frustrations are mine to carry. I protect you far more aggressively than your confident sister. And perhaps, just perhaps, I baby you too much.
Your physical body can barely contain your personality. You may only be four but everybody who meets you knows there is no doubt about who you are. Although you have all the traditional markings of a four year old; stubbornness, fierceness, and a need for things to be YOUR way it is the non-typical things that I adore. You have a strong streak of sympathy and your apologies and regrets at hurt feelings flow freely. Your absolute obsession with all things medical to the point where you insist on accompanying EVERYBODY to EVERY doctor’s appointment. You admire the doctor’s instruments and comment, “they are sooooo beautiful”. You have such a strong desire to be “a part of” every conversation or activity that you just talk over everybody – total nonsense pours out of your mouth — but you are part of the conversation and that is all that matters.
Most importantly, you are my third and my last and therefore I wallow in your babyhood. The way you smell, the softness of your skin, the innocent comments, the clumsy hugs and freely shared kisses — all will disappear before I know it. And when you leave these things behind so will I and therefore I am in no hurry for you to grow up. I’ve not set a deadline for you to stop sucking your thumb. I’m in no rush to force you to give up diapers. You can not know your letters and shapes and colors a bit longer. And yet, the irony is that all of these things are happening faster with you than the first two because you are the last. You are sprinting through your toddlerhood in an effort to keep up with your big sister and brother just as I clamor to hold you back.
My dearest Harper, please stay a baby a little longer. Please stay curled in my lap a little longer. Please let me nuzzle your head a little longer.
I lived in room 424 and she lived in room 324. I drove a bright yellow Geo Storm and she drove a bright orange VW Bug with plaid interiors. Kym and I met in August of my Junior year in college. We were Resident Advisors together and after one weekend of being on duty we were best friends. Kym is the keeper of my twenties. She knows the stories she can share (the night we dressed as ninjas) and the ones that are best forgotten. She knows when I’m lying to myself and tells me. We ate breakfast together, dinner together, walked to class together and dated sets of roommates. There isn’t a kiss, crush, or heartbreak that happened between ages 19-28 that Kym doesn’t know about or witnessed.
As college faded into the past and our lives became involved with husbands and careers and children our hourly communication drifted gradually into once every couple of months. The two lives that were so completely intertwined in college eventually became two parallel lives in different cities and often in different states.
This past September Kym’s husband was deployed to the middle east. Deployments are never easy, but Kym has waited through them before and was prepared for the four months ahead of her. We talked before her husband’s deployment and exchanged some sporadic emails in the month that followed. She was doing fine and keeping her family on track. In November I called to check on her and she shared her excitement about her mother flying down in the next couple of days. Her mom was going to stay with her for a month and she and the kids were so excited. Three days later Kym called to tell me that her mother would not be flying down because she had been admitted into the hospital with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A reoccurrence of a disease her mother had battled only 18 months prior.
Her voice was different. I knew, as only a friend of 20 years can know, that she had crossed her tipping point. She said she was okay and she said she would manage and that she didn’t need help but it was all a lie. Her voice. The sadness and despair that lurked right under the surface was evident. David insisted she come and stay with us until her husband’s return. She resisted. I insisted that she stay with us for Thanksgiving, but she said no. I started calling weekly, texting regularly, and trying to gauge her needs from afar. In December, she finally relented to come for Christmas – Kym, her four kids and two dogs. When they finally spilled out of their car and I caught her in my arms I didn’t want to let go.
The holiday was magical. There was joy and laughter and kindness and children and puppies billowing out of every corner of my house. We ate cookies, played games, shopped and talked until midnight EVERY DAY. We retold old stories, made new ones, and fell into the easy friendship that has sustained for so many years – the only thing missing was the cafeteria food. We cried at every doctor’s update and smiled at every phone call from overseas. We rolled our eyes at our children, shook our fists in frustration and laughed at the mothers we have become. And after ten days and with the promise that we will not allow so much time to pass between visits she packed up and drove home.
Friendship is hard. It is hard to find friends, make friends and keep friends. Most of us can look in our rear view mirror and see friendships that were dropped along the roadside, either due to time, or circumstance. Female friendships are even harder, frequently the victim of hurt feelings. But if you are lucky enough to have a friend — just one — that can look into your eyes and know your heart, who willingly shares your tears, and who can make you laugh at every corner of life – you are the richest person of all. And this Christmas, as I was surrounded by my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, my nephews and my best friend I realized there wasn’t a single thing I wanted for Christmas.
Shortly after Max was born I got this crazy idea to make my own advent calendar. I remembered always having an advent calendar as a child and Pinterest was filled with so many great ideas that I figured it would be simple. I’m inherently neither a sewer nor a crafter. I have zero patience for those sorts of things. However, I decided that this was a project I could handle. Insert eye roll and large laborious sighs.
It took me close to a month to complete my advent calendar and at the end it looked like an 8th grade Home Ec student made it. However, it was functional and so I used it with the intention that I would replace it with something nicer and probably store bought. Over the years the pockets of our advent calendar have been filled with all kinds of things – tiny toys, Christmas ornaments, activity coupons, bible passages, pencils, candy and other special treats. Every year I take the calendar out with the idea that I will look for something “nicer” – something a bit more professional looking.
This year as the Christmas and Hanukkah decorations were pulled into the house I handed the advent calendar to Lucy and told her to hang it up. She and Max exclaimed in delight and jumped around squealing with anticipation of what the calendar might hold this year. Again, I stood back and admired my shoddy sewing job.
It was several days later when Lucy and I were busy running errands that she said to me in the car, “Mama, when you are done with the advent calendar – like when you no longer have kids at home – can I have it for my kids?” *sniffle*
As mothers we are so hard on ourselves. Our expectations and standards for what we should be doing and how much we should be accomplishing is beyond unrealistic. I recently read a blog post on the momastery describing a visit to the elementary school where children were asked to write about their dreams. All the children wrote down that they dreamed, “for my family to be happy”. Happy. That is what our children want. They want us to be happy. Lucy’s request for my lopsided, poorly sewn, messily finished advent calendar is a reminder that where I see mistakes she sees beauty. Where I’m thinking “I could do better” – my children are thinking “I have the best Mom ever”.
Perhaps the job of motherhood isn’t nearly as hard as we are making it. Perhaps if we focused more on being happy and less on being perfect this job would seem far more attainable. Perhaps happiness just means a simple adjustment in perspective.