Food for thought. . . .
We’re laying here, the two of us, snuggled together on the living room floor.
We’re zipped into a fat green sleeping bag – little Her on the left, and big Me on the right.
Together we make a plump, chartreuse caterpillar that bounces every time she rolls to her side to puff a warm-breathed love note in my ear.
I savor the breeze of the words each time she steams up the side of my face with her sing-song, “I loooooove you Mommy!”
“I love you too, I love you too, I love you too,” I think hard as I squeeze and smooch her enough to elicit giggles from her gut and another juice-breathed, “I loooooooove you Mommy!” in my ear.
Please again. . . .
In my heart I’m struggling with the giddy beauty of this moment as it plays hard against the fresh and raw truth that my boys are getting bigger.
This is no surprise.
One has a man voice and a beard that crops in after 36 hours. The next has grown so tall that he’s close to looking me straight in the eyes when we stand face to face, and his running shoes dwarf my own by at least three sizes.
He trots off down the street to hang out with his friends, “Be back in an hour!” I call after him.
“I knoooooow!” He hollers back, his voice telling me this ain’t his first rodeo. He’s got it.
And my little guy. . . oh, he’s the one who’s little and big and the same time. He’s hovering right smack on the threshold of freakin’ adorableness and The World of Big Kids where the door starts to creep closed on Mom – but he’s not there yet. . . .
I dropped that little sleeping-bag-sharing girl off at her very first day of Pre-K3 this last Tuesday.
It took roughly 3 seconds and not even a glance over her shoulder for her to bounce away to play with her new teacher.
I hesitated for a moment by the front desk wondering if I was really supposed to leave.
Really? That’s it? No tears? Just, “Mom, you’re coming back?”
“Of course!” I said, and off she skipped.
This is what I thought had the potential to bring me to tears. I imagined I might crumble a bit on the inside as my littlest baby entered the world of school.
But I didn’t.
I felt relieved over the simplicity of the drop off, happy at her happiness, eager with anticipation for my two free mornings each week. . . .
As I gathered with girlfriends that same morning to toast mimosas to the start of the new school year, I did crumble though.
I crumbled over the stark and scary and sad reality of one of my big boys getting bigger.
Mimosa in hand, I started to relay a story of our trip to the neighborhood pool earlier in the week and couldn’t even finish because every emotion I had been holding inside tumbled out of me right then and there.
Tears, snot, shaky lips and all.
Shall we blame the 10AM mimosa?
But this is it, Mamas of almost-big kids.
Get out your notepad so you can learn from my misguided oblivion.
I am in a unique predicament because my children are four years apart each. I have a child in each phase of school – high school, middle school, grade school, pre-school; my mind and my emotions struggle to keep up with each of them and each phase of life, but at the same instance that it is difficult, perplexing and damn stressful, it’s a gift.
This is the story of the pool:
He’s walking away from me.
This boy who’s big, but not a man.
He’s twenty paces ahead, his face turned decidedly anywhere but back towards us.
Except once in a while.
Every few looooooong moments, he turns, just to make sure we are still there. But he doesn’t smile. Just confirms our existence. There. Behind him.
Yes, we’re there.
Onward he goes.
I lag behind with the two littlests – our raspy voiced seven-year old and our strong-willed, hippy-girl-NOT-princess, three-year old. One on each side.
Both of my hands holding theirs, wet towels draped around my neck, a cooler bag and pool tote hanging off my shoulders, and these two Littles simultaneously talking at me with urgency.
Urgency, you hear me?!
Whatever they are chirping away at me is of the utmost importance, but it’s like I’m in this weird time suspension, because I’m watching my Big walk away and it’s metaphorical and literal at the same time.
He’s walking away from me.
He’ll never come back.
He’ll never be holding my hand and chattering away, and telling me again how whatever he is saying is the most important thing in the whole dang world.
He’s never going to walk down the street holding my hand again.
Ever. (is he. . . ?)
And how many years will it be for him to come back and just walk with me. At the same pace, side by side, and have a whole conversation with me?
When will that happen again? Will it ever happen again?
What do I do to make it the most probable outcome?
But I’m trying to listen to these Little Ones too – to practice what I am learning right here, right now in this time suspension moment.
“Feel their hands!” I frantically think to myself.
I squeeze them and feel the warmth and stickiness and sweat and size of their little water-logged raisin fingers.
“Listen to what they’re saying!” I silently shout in my head.
And I do, but my mind wanders off as I look again twenty paces ahead at my boy who’s walking away.
Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God!
It’s happened. It’s happened to me!
Maybe this is why, my friend and I mused, babies of the family are babied.
Because they come at the end of the learning curve where older siblings have already paved the Leaving Path and left their sniffling parents in their dust.
While older siblings are marching away, younger siblings are still there.
Still looking for hands to hold and backs to be rubbed and kisses to be administered on skinned knees.
Still following me to the bathroom and giving me unsolicited hugs while I pee.
Still asking for snacks and help finding socks and in any words but the real ones, saying: “Will you take care of me?”
Still asking why and how and who and will you help me?
Will you help me.
I find myself my gnawing my mental fingernails, begging this growing boy with my mind to please just ask. . . .
For years I ignored the words of strangers, old ladies, mothers-in-law, and even my own same-aged friends and my husband – all of whom advised me during my whining monologues, (re: too long bedtimes, never-ending food prep, 5am wake-ups, marathon tuck-ins. . .). They warned me to cherish it because one day the kiddos won’t want it anymore, and then I’ll be sad.
Whatever, I thought.
Whatever. Not me. I’ll be fine.
I love watching my kids grow up.
Huh. . . .
Insert crow. Chew well.
Attempt to swallow dry, bitter meat.
The thrust into this new phase of perfectly natural development has brought a refreshed tenderness to my mothering that’s been missing for, oh. . . half a decade or so.
My husband used to joke that with each child born, my patience dwindled ten fold.
I can’t deny it.
My days were/are filled with the demands of little and biggish-little people alike needing things. Needing me.
And therein lies the rub.
Being needed is demanding, draining, patience-sucking,
Why did it take me so long to notice that these days are – yes indeedy – ones I would miss?
I’ve heard it too many times to count.
It’s all so cliché.
Blah, blah, blah is what I heard, really.
But like so many life lessons, I guess this is another one you can’t possibly understand until you’re in it.
And now, when my biggish boy asks me for help wrapping a present, or for a snack, or shares two tiny but voluntary sentences about his day or classes or friends or teachers, or when we laugh hysterically together over something immature and ridiculous, or when he complains about homework, or when we sneak chocolate from the top-secret stash together, or when he leans into my hugs, or lets me hold his hand just for a split second . . . when any one of those moments that I might have taken for granted four months ago is gifted into our present every-day life together, inside my heart makes a leap of thanks.
Thanks for this tiny moment.
Thank you thank you thank you for these moments, and please, if it’s not too greedy God, can I have like a billion more??
And I remind myself that as he was walking away the other day, he did still look back on occasion. . . and when he did, he saw me right where I was supposed to be – not hovering above monitoring his every move, but lagging behind – poised and ready to catch him if he falls and help him pick up the pieces should something fall apart.