Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Tomorrow is my big kid's 5th birthday. Ever since I was pregnant with him, people--strangers, acquaintances, relatives, friends--have told me how quickly children grow up. They say things like, "Savor every moment!" Well, there have been a lot of moments in five years, and I sure didn't savor every one of them. But I know I have done my absolute best to be present, engaged, and responsive as much as I possibly could.
All at once, it both feels like every bit of five years have gone by (maybe even longer?), and like all of sudden, my baby is a big kid. Of course it wasn't sudden. Of course I somehow survived and managed through each stage of his infancy, toddlerhood, and preschooler-ness. There are moments when motherhood feels like it is sucking the very marrow out of my being. I have, somehow, endured the powerful tension of allowing my identity to be consumed, for a time, by my small child. I have sacrificed income and some amount of external reward. I have read enough about child development over the past five years to have earned at least the equivalent of a Master's degree, and yet I'm not checking my mailbox for a diploma, because there won't be one. I have sought out experts and amateurs alike who offered me support for the very labor intensive brand of parenting to which I have been called. And as I result, I have learned to let roll off my back, like a duck, the comments of people who "compliment" me on my "patience" in a way that smacks of criticism. I have waited out the rough stages of my son's development, holding my tongue much of the time--instead, watching and listening for clues as to what he might possibly be trying to tell me with his sometimes infuriating behavior, and searching for the right moment to attempt to influence him.
And now, it feels like a storm has passed. I see glimpses of a big kid--a kid who can, at least for short spells, delay gratification, who can at least approximate empathy, who can be thoughtful and helpful. I see a child who described to me, after a half-day solo visit to a potential Kindergarten, what it felt like to almost start to cry when the reality of my absence first set in: "It started in my stomach and went up into my throat...I just kept it inside." This one comment, to me, was the blossom of my endless efforts to teach him to name and feel his feelings, something that is my biggest goal as a parent and, I believe, the cornerstone of his future as a person who can flow with life's challenges.
But the moments that really thrill me are those in which I see a child whose face absolutely lights up with joy. Mind you, he may be lighting up about saying, "Bot-tom, bot-tom, bot-tom!!" in a loud voice--he's five, after all--but still. When parents say, "but it's all worth it," they're talking about those kinds of moments. I see my big kid laughing, or being inquisitive, or trying to figure something out--in essence, being as robust and engaged in life as I have endeavored to be with him--and I allow myself an inner celebratory "Woo Hoo!" As if some of my words and gestures have actually sunk in. In which case all of the hassle and sacrifice has truly been worth it.
His turning five is whetting my appetite for a chance to regain some things for myself: to be the mom who sits and reads a book while her kids swim at the pool; to be like my neighbor who has a few girlfriends over for wine and chatter in the evening; to see my kids become more and more self-sufficient and less like tiny cyclones who scatter toys and books in their wake. When I allow myself to look forward to those days, I realize how much I have really surrendered to these ones. Who knew? In my own way, I suppose, I have savored every moment.