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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i guess this is growing up

The other day, I took a picture of my son’s baby face just because I wanted to remember it that way, just because I knew that it would change.  And then it changed.

And the same thing is happening to my daughters.  When did this one’s torso stretch itself so thin? When did her bones grow angular?  When did that one’s legs out-lengthen her pants?

Though it sometimes stops me for a minute, I think I’m ready for this.  Do I have a choice?

There are times when I miss them being babies; and then the youngest decides, one evening, to cough so hard he vomits his noodles all over himself and his crib.  Bewildered by a fever and a second nightime bath, he rests his head on my shoulder, letting me rock him to sleep.  He gives me a moment to remember rocking him to sleep, to remember rocking all of them to sleep.  And so I don’t miss it anymore.

And even though my oldest can define the word tenement and enjoys discussing algebra at the dinner table, she still yells “Mommy!” and bursts through the playground gate, jumping into my arms, when I pick her up from school.  I struggle with her fifty-three pounds, but walk a few steps, letting her hang.  I can’t imagine she’ll do this much longer. But she still does it now.

And the middle one. Oh, the middle one.  She knows she’s not a baby because her brother is, and she’s dying for homework like her sister, but know’s she’s not there yet, either. She makes me wait in the foyer while she walks into school “all by my own self,” but still asks me to sit by her bed and rub her back until she falls asleep each night.

The first time I read that Love You Forever book, I was a little creeped out by the illustrated image of the tiny mother cradling an adult son in her lap.  But now I get it, I think.  I stood outside church one time, swaying with my too-big son, hoping to get him to sleep long enough to last through the homily, and an older gentleman walked by.  He leaned in close to me (so as not to wake the almost-sleeping giant) and said, “Don’t let your arms get tired.  Mine’s thirty and I’m still holding him.”

And last weekend, I watched as a just-twenty-year-old stood in the kitchen, her mother pulling pieces of her daughter’s hair into a braid.  And even though she had to stoop a few inches, the child hasn’t yet outgrown her mom.

We give them enough slack to almost let them go, but they stay tethered to their spools.  Like little kites.