At a music festival we stumbled upon last spring, my son, disguised as Spiderman, ran through a tent-topped shop and proceeded to put his fingers on every piece of delicate jewelry or sculpted ceramic he could reach. Before I could untangle a silver necklace from his tight little fist, he had snatched the feathers of a giant dreamcatcher with his open hand, and the wrangling began again. Leaving my two daughters with the face-painter, I chased him out of the tent and stopped to catch my breath as he shot passers-by with invisible webs from his wrists. Next-door, an older couple was making kettle corn. The woman vigorously stirred the sticky contents of her cauldron and called to me, “Enjoy every moment . . .”
I’m going to stop the story here to interject. If there is something that I would never say to a mother of young children, it’s those three words. If I’m tempted, at all, to toss around platitudes, it would be something more like, “This too shall pass,” or “Expect the worst and hope for the best.” No mother enjoys every moment, because some moments involve poop or puke or tears or spanking or screaming.
Or incessant, invisible (but certainly not inaudible) spiderwebs.
Each time I hear the phrase, I imagine all of us mothers marching through town, with Joker-smiles carved into our countenances. We’re dripping with small children, dragging our toddlers by the arms down sidewalks, through grocery stores, in and out of carseats. They’re kicking and red-faced, and we are late for work or the doctor appointment or the playdate. Our recitation is our rhythm: “We’re enjoying every moment. We’re enjoying every moment.” And we’re as in-step as a clone army.
Am I supposed to enjoy the moment I find my mammoth todder in his closed-door bedroom, two fists full of scruff, doing bicep curls with the cat? (Surely I’ve mentioned this cat before. He’s arthritic and nineteen years old.) Or the moment of the unexpected backflip off the couch and onto the hardwood floor?
Am I supposed to enjoy the shrieks and screams that carry us out of restaurants? The terrifying fevers and full-family stomach viruses?
Today, I made myself feel better by pretending I was Miss Hannigan as I screamed into my kitchen, “Kill! KILL!” It’s probably a good thing that the kids watched the movie just last night.
When my eyes began their rolling, the kettle-corn-woman added, “even the hard ones,” and I paused. I turned to look back at her, putting together exactly what I wanted to say. But she had stopped her stirring, and was smiling at my tiny Spiderman. I read something of loss in her face.
Yes, she acknowledged that there are hard ones. And she knew something I didn’t, something I couldn’t have known. Yet. I can’t say that I enjoy the hard moments; I’d be lying if I did. Parenthood is about much more than enjoyment (despite what our Facebook pictures might suggest). It’s much more about struggle and tears, fatigue, and quite a bit of refereeing. But maybe there’s something about the hard moments that makes the good ones better.
Like the day he takes the nap he’s been fighting against these past six (twelve?) months. Or the day his sister finally stops her sleepwalking. Or the day the middle one offers up her month-old Halloween candy without being asked. I guess I don’t know, yet, but I think that, probably, those are the things I will remember.
And, years from now, those are the things I will probably see when I encounter a mother of three young children. Even if I want her to enjoy it, I won’t tell her so. I’d much rather she figure it out on her own.