This week I am taking part in Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. The prompts are:
1.) Locked out.
2.) Write about a time you wanted to disappear.
3.) An inappropriate time to laugh.
4.) A time you hurt a friends feelings.
5.) Advice to new mothers.
This is a repost. I wrote this in August. If you've already read it, go ahead and read it again. Tell me it's awe inspiring. If you want to insult me, go ahead but make sure I don't know where you live. I will egg your house. Because I'm petty that way.
"Enjoy them while they're young."
That one sentence and snippet of advice I heard hundreds of times over the years set my teeth on edge. I wondered if the bestower of this nugget of knowledge understood how condescending she sounded. Or if she might be suffering from selective memory loss. Worst of all, the undertone was a message of doom. You think you have it hard now? Ha! Just wait. It was also implied that I wasn't enjoying my children which sounded like a judgment.
As a newer mother, I was trying to do right by my children. I took them to story time at the library, joined a cooperative preschool, breastfed long after they got teeth (biting really was sparse), worried about healthy food and positive discipline. I loved them, held them rocked them, sang to them, told them how beautiful, smart, wonderful people they were.
At the same time, I worked and juggled the child who would never take a bottle. I organized my hectic schedule around feeding time. Another pregnancy brought on another severe case of hyperemesis so I needed to know where the closest bathroom was located in a new building so I could throw up. When I went anyplace, even simply up the road to church, I packed a bag or two for all purposes. There were diapers, wipes, burp cloths, pacifiers, snacks, crayons, notebooks, a change of clothes for everybody, blankets, toys, shoes (who knew how I often a toddler would leave without shoes?), sippie cups and a stroller. Yet how many times would I get to a store after all this preparation and realize I'd forgotten my wallet?
I'd sit in the mall to take a breather with two children in a double stroller, one pre-schooler tired of walking, the hungry baby but I'm not a public nurser and we'd split a pretzel with cream cheese. For all intents and purposes, it looked idyllic to someone not in this stage. Someone, in fact many someones would stop to admire my beautiful children, offer a finger to my little ones to grab (I'd wonder if I'd brought the hand sanitizer) and they'd smile and say, "Enjoy them while they're young."
With great effort, I would smile and think, "Bite me." Did I mention that I was also severely sleep deprived?
I felt guilty, terribly, terribly guilty because somehow I was missing the secret these women already knew. This was supposed to be the best time. The easiest time. I love my children, there is no doubt about that but many, many days I would find that after packing everything I needed, running back into the house for this or that or the other, driving to work and realizing I forgot diapers or I'm out of wipes and continuing on, struggling up the steps with all the paraphernalia while urging the walking children to keep up because I'm already late for work, enduring the velcro arms and legs around my own legs, I would finally leave daycare, close the door and hear an audible sigh escape my lips.
Enjoy them while they're young. I'm trying to but what does that mean?!
It's many years later and I'm at another stage in life. My children are pursuing different interests and I'm driving them a lot more, breaking up arguments, settling hurt feelings, problem solving, explaining time constraints, wondering what I did wrong and overall feeling overwhelmed and thinking my children are ill-prepared for what comes next, whatever it might be. I'm terrified of the future where my son can't sew on a button, my daughter goes out with a boy who won't take no for an answer, another daughter might crash the car and get maimed or die, someone might push my baby down in the playground or a teacher might say something careless and I look back on those early years with fondness. Why? Because in hindsight, I realize that I survived them and I understand them. That doesn't make them any easier. I was just as neurotic then as I am now and I had fears that mirrored the next big thing but at least I know I enjoyed having small children when I didn't take them out. When I played on the floor, read books to them, nursed them, rocked them, or let them help me make cookies. I wasn't perfect, but I believe that, in the gaps of a hectic life, I enjoyed them.
The other day I was talking to a quiet, new teacher at our school. He's 30 and recently graduated from a local college in teaching. I was interrupted by a call from a daughter trying to schedule two fun things too close together without planning for transportation and time and I was trying to explain this glitch to her 13 year old brain in a non-frustrated manner. Very difficult. But she's only 13 as I reminded myself. I hung up and turned to the new teacher and asked if he has children.
"I do. They are 7, 3, and 10 months old," he said. My mouth nearly went off before I could stop myself from suggesting that he enjoy them while they're young. To me, they are at a manageable age. Because I did it. I survived it. Because right now I have four children that challenge me in ways I didn't anticipate. But we'll get through it together just like we did when we were younger.
"It's a lot of work, isn't it?" I said. He let out a breath he seemed to be holding and began a diatribe on how one child threw up all over the bed in the middle of the night, etc., etc., etc. "It gets better, doesn't it?" he asked me.
"Yes," I told him. "You'll enjoy them at different moments. But it's good."
Yes, it's good.