the moment, you own it, you better never let it go.

spiderman.

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.

handsEach 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?

georgiaAm I supposed to enjoy the back-talking attitude of a precocious eight-year-old? She has perfected the art of sarcasm.  Already.

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.

teddy1Like 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.

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stuck in the middle with you (a thank-you for sweet jane)

baby jane.

In recent weeks, as my toddler has begun his floor-kicking tantrums because he’s two (or because he’s now getting the molars I thought he already had), I have grown increasingly appreciative of my middle child.  And it’s not a favorite thing; I love them all the same.  It’s more of a time-out, a “Hey, thanks, Jane.  You could be making this so much worse.”

The middle child.  Sometimes I take her for granted. Sometimes I forget that she has only been here for four years, that her own toddler days weren’t so long ago. (Just this morning, I asked her to remind me to drop off the daycare check. Yes, a preK-er.)

eyes.  I, too, am a middle child, and so perhaps that’s why she makes so much sense to me. Of my three children, she is the most like me, in appearance and personality.  She says things like, “I want to climb a ladder to the sky so that I can kiss the moon.” She runs barefoot where she’s not supposed to (and inevitably steps on sand spurs or a fire ant mound). She makes funny faces for a laugh.  And hurts too much for others.

Maybe I expect so much from her because I sometimes forget that she is not me.

Or maybe it’s because her manner has always been milder.  She didn’t burst into this world, screaming until her body shook like her sister did.  Instead, she gave a little whimper on the scale, then fell asleep. There were no “terrible twos” (or threes), because oh, jane.  there just wasn’t time for that. She never took a black Sharpie to the beige couch cushions or poured gasoline on the floor of the garage. In fact, most of the time, she kind of does what she’s supposed to do, and apologizes when she doesn’t. She is a pleaser. And she wears her middleness remarkably well.

Once, she said she wanted to sit on a cloud.  “You can’t, Jane,” said her science-minded sister.  “Clouds are just water and air.”

Sometimes, I think she’s up against too much. She’s always had to do everything faster. Walking, potty-training, moving from the crib. We couldn’t carry her because our arms this girl.  were full of someone else; she’s been running to catch up since the day she was born. The truth is, I don’t remember much of Jane’s babyhood. It happened in the winter.  She got a virus from her sister and was hospitalized when she turned a week, and there were tangled wires stuck to her chest, IVs too big for her tiny hand, bars on the bed (I remember that part).  I remember, too, that she didn’t crawl, but scooted on her little butt across the floor.  Once, there was a neighborhood Christmas parade, and she fell asleep with her soft cheek against my shoulder.  I wished, momentarily, that she could stay that way forever.

Maybe even then, I knew.party girl.

Just the other day, Georgia said, “It must be hard for Jane because she doesn’t know who she is.  Is she a big kid?  Is she a little kid?  She doesn’t know.”

Maybe I don’t know, either. She is the in-between. Sometimes I scoop her up inside my arms and rock her back and forth.  She’s always been the most petite, the easiest to hold. She rests her head against my chest and closes her eyes, pretending to sleep like a baby. I imagine those lashes, that upturned nose on a much tinier face.  And then it seems not long ago. Other times I send her to the bathroom to potty-train her brother.  And I wonder where I was when her legs grew so long, when her face lost all of its babyness.

Maybe I was in the middle then, too.  Maybe I still am.

camping jane.So Jane, someday when you read this (I do realize that you can’t read just yet), please know that I was thanking you.  All along.

you’re aging well (to my daughter, in her eighth year)

birthday girl.

Dear Georgia,

Yesterday, I looked at you and knew that you had changed.  And it wasn’t just the number of freckles or the freshly-pierced ears or the first pair of shorts that didn’t reach all the way to your knees.

You’re getting older.

You act differently when there’s a boy in the room (even if he is your cousin).  Sometimes you cry in the evening and you won’t tell me exactly why.  “I just want everyone to stop asking me questions,” you say.  You wear perfume.  You don’t wear the jeans with the patches because you think you’ll look silly.

adam.

So this is when it happens, when you start to learn that world is not quite as perfect as you first thought.  That life is not always easy.  STEM classes don’t have recess.  You hate to compete with your friends, but sometimes you can’t help it.  People that we love die and the explanation is not good enough.

When you draw pictures of our family, you and I always look exactly alike; I’m just a little bit taller.  We wear the same triangle dress.  Our red hair falls along the same diagonal. The same blue colors our eyes.  And I wonder if, when you look at me, you see you.

you and me.

It is your first time being seven.  It is my first time being the mother of a seven-year-old. We walk the line:  you, between self-consciousness and self-confidence, and I, between overprotection and overexposure.  And we both falter.

For right now, you still believe in Santa.  You’re pretty convinced you saw the fairy’s wings when you lost your second tooth.  You see a book on the table called Adam’s Return and you say, “It says ‘Adam’s return.’  I thought that maybe . . . ”  And even though you don’t say it, I know what you thought.  I know what you believed, what you want to believe, even if it’s just for this minute.  (After all, Easter just passed, and Jesus did it, so why not?)

Someday, you won’t believe these things.  But someday is not right now.

beautiful.

Right now, this is what I know: when I look at you, I see something more beautiful than I could ever possibly be.