I still love my children as much as you love yours and, probably, I love mine more. Mine are easier to love after all. Cuter, more insightful--more mature in their good moments--better brutes (which is powerful) in their bad ones. Let’s face it, mine are the best.
When my son wouldn’t come out from behind my leg, or lift his chin to face the grown up who was trying to engage him in conversation (because you know everyone wants to connect with him because of all that golden-white hair and those cheeks and wide thoughtful eyes) it was a sign of his superior sensitivity and a refusal to conform. He dressed as a ‘regular boy’ for Halloween when he was four--not content to just be a child he watched his own childhood careful not to admit too much, to commit to anything, to show too much enthusiasm. How cute is that? Made all the Freddies and Harry Potters look like a bunch of sheep if you ask me. When he’d refuse to be dropped off at the drop-off birthday party it was a sign of his deep attachment to his mother which everyone knows is a good sign when the mother is as cool and as laid back as I am. When he bit Grace Marenko in PreK because she stole Ian’s Power Ranger, it was a sign of loyalty and everyone was glad that he made such a bold gesture. He’s the only one who didn’t get in trouble--Grace was scolded for stealing, Ian for breaking the no-toys-in-school rule, and my son? Heralded a hero for his great courage and character. That’s a true story.
When my daughter didn’t speak--not even a mama or a dada by seventeen months--she was the best most adorable non-speaker in the neighborhood. All sorts of kids her age that year qualified for early intervention speech therapy (a cluster caused by what? overexposure to infant music-together classes--la da di da da dum la la di da da dum? dust from the 9-11 cloud that hovered over the playground that fall?--who knows?) But she was the quietest--the most creative mute of them all. The best charades partner you could ever hope for, so good was this toddler at getting exactly what she wanted from anyone, any time of day. Everybody admired her. She tied her friend’s shoelaces at three and stopped wearing diapers at twenty months. The best, brightest, most connected to her body, most dexterous of them all.
And my baby? The chubbiest most lovable tank of a two year old--all pink and exaggerated cheeks--gravity defying belly and the toughest of all three. I hate having to break up the quarrels she gets into at playgroup. She picks on kids her own size which means that she picks on three year olds. And if you let them have at it--a lil tikes car for example, or a sesame street pop up toy--they tend to pull with such equal and opposite force that it looks like something from Cirque du Soleil and sounds like Godzilla vs. Mothra. But the Caribbean nannies frown on this letting them have at it thing (so do the parents of the other child if it’s their only or their first). But everyone agrees she’s got the greatest determination and sweetest disposition all at the same time. She’s the best bully on the block.
See how much I love them? See how incredible they are? Good, because this is where the hard part comes. Something is shifting. It’s not a bad thing, just a shift. But a major one--one that enables me to see into the future for the first time since becoming a parent and understand how the rest of this thing might play out.
It’s like I’ve been underwater since the birth of my son almost eight years ago. Fluidful floating feeling fumbling--all else blurred--sort of soft focus. Regular world experiences (Clinton v Lewinsky, Bush v Gore, War) reduced to the noise the grownups made in Charlie Brown. Rare moments of clarity--like when the man at Duane Reade didn’t hold the door open for me when I ran out for necessities in my first solo public appearance when my first baby was eight days old, or when I pissed off Batsheva at work within minutes of returning from maternity leave after my third child was born--made me eager to return to my home where babies and children clung to me, fed off of me, pressed tear stained faces against my shoulder. Eager to return to my underwater life.
It’s hard to describe the shift without picturing that first creature that emerged from the water onto dry land millions and millions of years ago. So let’s just go there. I am crawling onto dry land now. Really, it feels that way. My baby’s two and a half--she quit nursing a few months ago and is working on being potty trained. That might have something to do with this whole wet-to-dry thing. But she tags around after my older ones so much it doesn’t quite feel like it did back when I was all-consumed by my previous two year olds. My older ones are five and seven now. They seem less like precious-flesh-of-my-flesh types and more like people who live in my house. I have glimpses of what it might be like to not recognize my own child--they are so much their own creatures at this point.
After seven years of a pseudo-family bed situation my son now does what the sitcom kids do--heads upstairs and gets himself to sleep after a quick pat on the head (really, I pat his head). My five year old daughter, not content to let her brother own any glory for sudden independence sleeps through the night every night in her own room now. I wake up sometimes and they’re already starting their own days--all by themselves.
This morning 6:15 I heard THUD pat pat pat (loft bed to bathroom)--screek screek screek glog glug gargle gargle spit rinse screw screw screw (mouthwash). Faucet rushes on fumble fumble brushabrushabrushabrusha spit brushbrusha spit faucet off silence. Pat pat --toilet seat lifted--rush of morning pee--toilet seat lowered. Flush. Then receding pat pat pats as this morning dude headed downstairs to...oh I don’t know...I grabbed another 40 minutes of sleep before finding out.
I’m now at an unfamiliar point in parenting where I don’t melt anymore at how cute it is that my son (now 7) can pee (posing like a real guy at the toilet), or thinks to brush his teeth at all, or helps himself to mouthwash when no grownups are around.
I’m on the other side of something. I’m up on dry land--and they’re all here with me, considering me to be more and more human with each passing day. Learning that I make mistakes, lie, mean well, and would manipulate any situation in their favor if I could.
I’m up on dry land now where all the things I said I’d do if I didn’t have small children lurk.
I see moms on the playground who are still down pretty deep. They look sort of goofy but I don’t begrudge them that. Everyone should be blessed with such a watery subsurface sabbatical.
Sometimes I think I may have had my third because I saw the edge approaching--could see all that dry land up ahead and I wanted to put it off a little bit longer, all those new and different pressures. But now that I’m here I’m enjoying the air.
I walk beside my children now. Not behind hunched over a stroller but next to them--standing upright. Another image from the evolution chart. We take classes together at the Museum and I dance to Donna Summer like I used to in college and I revel in embarrassing them. I used to worry about that when we were underwater. I also used to worry about all those lies about Santa and the Tooth Fairy. I thought my kids were so fragile.
I explain complex things to them like what white lies are, and about karma. And I am the mom and they are my kids and I love them more than any mom could ever love her children. Really I do.
But it’s different now.
7 years ago