He spotted me from across the parking lot and heaved his overflowing backpack onto his shoulder. A friend called out to him, but either he didn’t hear it, or chose to ignore it. Eyes cast down towards his feet, he finally crawled in through the open door.
“Hey buddy! How are you? How was your day?”
But hearing the way his voice went flat, I knew it had been anything but fine. We drove in silence, with different approaches to this sullen boy, who at the moment, only slightly resembled my usually joyful and spirited one, running through my mind. I decided to wait until we got home, but found myself unconsciously clutching the steering wheel with so much force my knuckles had turned white. What had happened? I became aware of irrational thoughts bubbling to the surface…..”I dropped him off happy. Who is to blame for this? I’ll find out. Oh…I’ll find out...and when I DO….SOMEone’s gettin’ chewed on.”
We pulled into the garage and unloaded bags and a few groceries I had picked up before getting kids. I was dimly aware of my older children having a spirited discussion about the hidden meaning behind a song as I watched my youngest disappear into the house. When I walked in, he was on the floor wrapped up with Frodo, the big black poodle, who also seemed to sense something was not quite right with his smallest charge. I set quickly to work squeezing long ribbons of Hershey’s chocolate into white, creamy milk, and holding it in one hand, I scooped my abnormally quiet boy from the floor into my arms, and we made our way to the squishy armchair that has just been moved.
But this time, the thought crosses my mind that I’ve finally placed it in the most perfect of spots. Whoever sits in this chair, can always feel a bit of sun on some part of their body during daylight hours, and I’ve noticed members of my family drawn to it just as I am. I’ve looked over countless times to see one of my children curled up in a blanket with their feet tucked under them while lost in a book, or just looking out into our backyard. We often have to kick Frodo out first, though. Of all the comfortable places for him to dognap, this seems to be his favorite. My guess would be I hit the fung shui jackpot for this particular piece of furniture in an attempt to arrange the dining room like the cover of a House Beautiful magazine.
I held him for a long time, and after only a few moments, I felt his small body start to relax into mine. Vaguely, as I smoothed his hair away from his ears, I mulled over how much of his day I’m no longer a part of. My logical brain understands it must be this way, but my Mother’s heart can let this fact paralyze me into such sadness it’s hard to remember ever feeling happy. It’s a process that some parents may just be unaware of, and therefore get to skip; mourning the inevitable weaning that takes place when their child goes to school.
My own mother talks about the way the first three girls in our family were brought up, and how there was little time for sadness at times like the one that has me feeling so melancholy. Both my parents were working long, hard hours to keep a home going for their family, and I doubt my Mom had two seconds to think about how many hours her children spent away from her, or to give much thought to a quiet child who may have been just a little more quiet than usual on a given day.
In some ways, I think that may be a better scenario. Because, the kind of worrying I am doing right now, about not being able to control my child’s every social interaction with other children and adults, is in a word: folly. There’s no changing little ones growing up; it is an unstoppable train. There was a time for them being within hugging distance 24/7, and that time has passed. My Mom and Dad did make time to make sure their daughters were thriving, both physically and mentally. They just didn’t have time for the folly,that which I seem to be making time for.
For some mothers, that time in their children’s life, the 24/7 sticking to them like white on rice time, feels oppressive. I’ve read many accounts from mothers I respect very much, that actually couldn’t wait for their babies to grow out of that clinging Can’t go to the bathroom by myself phase. I’ve come to see that it’s not the mark of a “Bad Mother” to not love the early years of child rearing. It just means, that particular part of parenting isn’t their favorite. My dear Martha Beck, a respected life coach and one of my favorite authors admitted openly to looking forward to the day when her children would “get her jokes”….and “challenge her intellectually and not with a tantrum”. She loved her children’s teen years, but admits to popping them in front of the tv quite a bit when they were tiny. Bad mom? I don’t think so. If you’ve ever read her book, “Expecting Adam“…you’d see the beauty in the way she loves and respects the children she has raised.
Me? I’m the Mom that loved the I haven’t showered in 3 days because I can’t put the baby down time.
99.9% of it. The .1% comes from the times when I was sick, barely able to take care of myself, and the panic-filled moment of complete understanding washed over me, that no matter what, the baby comes first.
There is a memory so clear for me, that I doubt I’ll ever forget it, even when I can’t remember my own name and refuse to wear my false teeth. At the time, my Firstborn was only weeks old, and I became violently ill, with what I now know to be gallbladder attacks. If you’ve ever had issues with your gallbladder, then you know the evil I speak of. If I was a smarter and more medically savvy girl, I would have feared that I was having a heart attack. The pain radiated between the shoulder blades in my back around my body to my rib cage and spread out from there in every direction. I had never experienced that kind of pain, and it was beyond frightening. I was alone with my new daughter, who at that point was nursing so much, I can barely remember when she WASN’T, and I remember sitting on the bathroom floor with her, alternately nursing her, and putting her down to scream while I puked my guts out. After an hour, nothing else came out, but it seemed like I was on a timed schedule to heave myself silly for 2 hours, every 7 minutes to be exact.
I’ve never been that ill since, and when my last child was born, and that nasty gall bladder started to rear its ugly head, I recognized it for what it was. And it came out. That is most definitely the only time I wished for my children to be old enough to not need me quite so much.
Back to the child in my arms, the one I had imagined to have undergone trials and tribulations so horrible that he was unable to speak of them.
“Are you ready to tell me what’s made you so sad today, sweetheart?”
(a small nod into my chest)
“I’m not funny“.
“Ya. I’m not funny. Poindexter* said so.”
“Oh. Were you trying to be funny?”
“Yep. And everyone always laughs Mom. I can make people laugh. Did you know that?”
“So you were being silly, making your friends laugh, and Poindexter* told you that you weren’t funny?”
“And that’s what has you sad?”
“Is it possible that you were trying to be funny when you were supposed to be listening? To your teacher?”
“And is it possible that Poindexter* didn’t want to get in trouble?”
(eyebrows go up) “He NEVER gets in trouble Mom. NEVER.”
“He laughs at me at recess. Cuz you can laugh at recess.”
“Is it your job to make people laugh?”
I’m laughing now…and so is he. We talk about appropriate times to be silly, and agree that he is probably responsible for 97% of the smiles and laughter that take place among his Kindergarten friends. Littlest comes to the conclusion that Poindexter* may have a point about his timing, but walks away pulling one of the strangest faces I’ve ever seen him make.
“What ARE you doing darlin’?”
“Just practicing my funny faces Mom. I need some new stuff!”
And I can see that during the time he is gone from me, he is building himself; cutting out his niche’ in society, and learning about what works, and what doesn’t. And it’s good to be witnessing all of this from the front row, sometimes coaching, other times biting my tongue. I read once, that it takes courage to let your child be who they are.
I’m raising the next Jerry Seinfeld.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
*name changed to protect the innocent child who told my child that he wasn’t funny.