If you’ve ever spent the morning with a toddler, you’ve experienced the abundance of pure life. Those scarlet cheeks, pudgy arms and the moist, odorless sweat pour forth from that mystery source of energy and youth. Life itself wriggles before you in willy-nilly, continuous movement.
As a stay-at-home mom of 16-month-old twin boys, the pace of my day forced me to live in the moment. From the abrupt instant of consciousness each morning, I switched “ON.” Immediately I was strategizing the most efficient way to get diapers changed, get myself dressed, get them dressed, get us all down the stairs, breakfast made, get them fed, myself fed, kitchen cleaned, shoes on and then, sunscreen, diaper bag, sippy cups, snacks, and stroller. Bumps, bruises, mishaps, phone calls, coaxing, distracting, threatening, tears, pleading and determination were the tools required each day in order to implement the plan. The days were long and messy, and the months and indeed, the years were a whirlwind.
When one is putting out fires, there is little time for self-reflection. Every so often, as I’d bustle about town, I’d receive some unsolicited advice.
“You’d better enjoy it! It goes by fast!” I’d turn to see an older woman, relaxed, strolling at a comfortable pace along the prairie path with a friend, coffee in hand. She had no diaper bag. Her hair was in place and her makeup fresh. She expected no response from me but instead would turn back to her conversation in a dismissive gesture. Just as well. Most likely I would be searching the folds of blankets and baby bottoms for the missing sucker that is causing the loud skirmishes from the double stroller.
However, once the moment passed, I’d stew in anger at her careless remark. Jittery from too much coffee and a bit shaky from not enough sleep, I’d push my busy bundle along and compare this woman’s imagined leisurely morning to mine.
I’m sure that she hasn’t changed three dirty diapers this morning. I’m sure she didn’t clean up an entire bowl of soggy Cheerios from her kitchen floor! How dare she!
Then, the sinking feeling, Was she right? I knew the giggles and kisses from these little guys were temporary. I SHOULD enjoy. Who knew what was to come? I’d cling to the moment, feeling pressured to enjoy and guilt for not enjoying enough.
Many times, I faced this dilemma. Years later as I strolled to school, hand-in-hand with my 8-year-old daughter, when another such woman practically spit out the words.
“Ha! Just wait!” she said cynically. I looked at her, but she passed without eye contact.
As an older woman now, with a 15-year-old daughter I understand why that woman spewed those words. Still, when I see young Moms on the prairie path, bending over new-fangled, cushiony strollers, I leave them alone.
I always suspected that the bitter warnings from those women were somehow off-base. Whether they intended it or not, inherent in those messages was the threat that as my beautiful children grew, I would be left with nothing. The daily miracles of innocence would be replaced with…what? I didn’t want to imagine the emptiness in my life. I’d cling, feeling desperate.
Yet, there were many precious times, that without heeding a warning, I would simply, organically, savor. I’d breathe in the scent of my child as I lifted his soapy, slippery body from the tub. I’d melt into the sweet pleasure of feeling the tiny, relaxed, fingers of my daughter’s hand in mine.
In the end, I was the Mom that tended to celebrate the milestones. No diaper bag – yes! Everyone can tie their own shoes – Whew! One day, without realizing that the principal was watching, I literally clicked my heels after the drop-off on the first day of school. As I turned back, I caught her knowing smile.
This time last year as the twins packed for college, the warnings swirled, and I did I steel myself for the pain and the emptiness. I waited, but the crash never came. The full impact of any loss was softened by pride and peace. Pride in these young men, my sons, and the peace that comes when savoring the beauty of life’s changes.
Had I clung, I may have missed the next gifts. The pleasure of a quiet house. Mornings alone. As I have coffee, I strangely enjoy the nice clean kitchen counter (does that ever get old?). I have time to think. Time to work. Time to walk. Time to write. I savor.
This fall, my stepson is getting married to a lovely woman and the excitement mounts. Like his father, he is decent and kind. This young, gracious couple has included all of my kids to be in their wedding party. The newly-arrived invitations are spread out on the kitchen table. Late last night, one of the twins decided to show me his latest card trick. We carefully push the invitations aside, and the cards are laid out. No parental fake-enthusiasm required. I am impressed as he produces not one queen, but all four?
This weekend the other twin, shy and quiet at times, enthusiastically packed the van for a camping trip with a group of his good friends. I was happy for him. My daughter routinely asks me to French braid her hair before her shift at the local pizza place. No problem! For her, I methodically practice the delicate balance of monitoring and mentoring. Any Cheerios on the kitchen floor these days are energetically cleaned up by my scruffy, blonde labradoodle, Chloe.
The “Empty Nest” looms large for my husband and me, but I do not cling. I trust that there is always more to savor.
As is often the case, I somehow received the perfect wisdom for today.
This time by Naomi Long Madgett:
Woman with Flower
I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.
Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.
Let the soil rest from so much digging
And wait until it’s dry before you water it.
The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction;
Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.
Much growth is stunted by too much prodding,
Too eager tenderness.
The things we love we have to learn to leave alone.