Our local pool has $3 swimming for families on Saturday afternoon. Yesterday was a dreary day, too cool for the park, so we headed to the pool with every other family from our neighbourhood. I love family swim time. I also hate it with a vengeance. Why, you ask?
- The hair on the changing room floor. It was beyond disgusting. That floor hadn’t been cleaned since last Tuesday. It was a land mine of hair. I gave up trying to find clean patches to step on and resigned myself to coming home with some deadly disease plastered to the bottom of my feet. On the flip side, I love that my bathroom floor looks pristine and practically magazine-worthy in comparison.
- The shivering, whining waiting to get into a family change room. About eight tiny change rooms lined up down a long, narrow, floor-hair infested hallway. We waited and waited for a door to open up so we could change into our suits. It reminded me of a game-show where you don’t know which door is going to open next. We were competing for an open door with ten other families so every time a door opened, the mothers nervously glanced at each other, evaluating which family had been waiting the longest for a room. I was flabbergasted when a door finally opened and out came mom, dad, little girl, other little girl, little boy…they just kept coming, like people climbing out of a Volkswagen beetle in the commercial. Just when I thought it was safe to enter, grandma came out too. That group took “family change room” seriously I guess. On the bright side, the change room made the bathroom in our 1966 home seem huge in comparison. I won’t complain anymore when our whole family is clamouring in there together in the mornings.
- The screaming. Release one hundred kids from the confines of home and school and chaos ensues. Children were shouting, splashing and thrashing around. A week’s worth of forced-quietness at school or daycare was unleashed in two hours of madness. Dads weren’t dads anymore; they were hungry sharks. Moms let go of the rules and leaned back into the water to breathe, if only for a moment. The look on my own children’s faces was pure joy. I’ll put up with the shrieking and yelling any day to see my two in such bliss. They were so worn out when we got home that the bickering and picking and poking at each other disappeared, for a few hours at least.
- The pee in the baby pool. Baby pools scare me. Does anyone else remember the signs at hotel pools in the 80s that said, “This is our OOL. Notice there is no P in it?” Great idea except babies can’t read. Both my children bee-lined for the baby pool, even though I tried to convince them otherwise. My two-year-old daughter decided that she was very, very thirsty. She defiantly scooped up that pee-water and drank it by the handful. Every time I asked her to stop she gave me an evil grin and lapped up even more. But really, aren’t I always trying to get my children to drink more water? Gag.
- The post-swim sleep. As a parent of young ones, life is all about sleep. Our days and activities are planned around naps and bedtime with one goal in mind: getting our children to sleep as much as possible. After our wild weekend swim, both children slept. My son, typically ready to rise and shine at 5:00, slept in until practically noon. That’s what 6:15 feels like when you are used to 5:00. I thought my daughter must have been in a coma, as we didn’t hear a peep from her until after 7:00.
We’ll be there next weekend so I hope to see you too. First I need to make a quick stop at Target for a family pack of flip-flops. 😉
Late at night when the house is still enough to hear the whirring of the refrigerator and the buzz of the odd car on the road beyond the high trees, there is a stirring. The groaning of a mattress spring, the creak of small feet on hardwood and the click of a door are hardly noticeable to anyone unfortunate enough to be awake in the late, late hours of the night.
The hasty thump thump of small steps on the carpeted hallway flee the horrendous monsters under the bed; monsters now locked in the bedroom with no one to frighten.
The door pushes open and a small shadowy pyjama-clad figure bursts in quietly. He is stealthy. His heart is racing. He is holding his breath. The monsters have lost their power with his arrival. He is safe.
He creeps up on the Big Bed, his stuffed doggie clutched in his right hand. He climbs up to the special pillow in the middle. Momma on one side, Daddy on the other, he slides his feet down into the comforting warmth of his safe place. His small hand reaches over to rest on my cheek and his doggie tucks under his chin. He exhales and shuts his eyes, asleep in seconds.
We followed all the rules when he was a baby. “Train him to sleep in his crib, in his own room” the book said. “Don’t let him get used to sleeping with you” the expert warned. He slept like a darn by himself and loved his own bed dearly, until he turned three and the monsters of his vivid imagination took over. The bedtime wails of his newborn sister didn’t help.
Now he is five and a half and eyebrows rise when I mention our little visitor who enters in the darkest hours of the night. A few years of parenting under my belt and I don’t care what others think. He is young and he is afraid. He is my boy and I am his momma.
I’m sure our nighttime ninja will be gone as swiftly as he came, older and stronger and independent. I won’t miss the odd kick in my side, arm flung across my ear and 5:30 wake ups. I know I’ll miss the running steps in the hall and the quiet, grateful hand on my cheek.
This week’s photo challenge asked bloggers to choose a photo that shows “horizon”. I immediately thought of this picture of my daughter, taken on a hot day in early September. We were at the beach close to our house. There were only a few other people there and the tide was out, making the perfect sandbar for the kids to play on. Behind us, my son and husband were net fishing in a warm tide pool. The water was icy, icy cold but my daughter didn’t care. She beelined far out into the ocean, so far that she looked teeny tiny in the vastness of the water. She has no fear yet, my two-year old. I hope she can hang on to her boldness as long as possible. 🙂
I’ve been at home with you since you were born, over five and a half years. The longest I’ve been apart from you is three hours for a few mornings a week of preschool and the odd shopping trip, movie night or weekend away. I’ve never had the opportunity to miss you on a daily basis.
There were many days when it was rare for you to be more than an arm’s length away from me. We were together a lot.
When your little sister was tucked in for her afternoon nap, we built Lego. You soaked up the time alone with me. We had two overloaded drawers of Lego and two hours of quiet; our silence punctuated only by, “Can you find Batman’s head?” and “I need help getting these pieces apart!” and “Don’t look! I’m not finished yet!” Sometimes I’d doze off on your bed while you built. You didn’t mind. My presence was what you wanted.
You are in kindergarten now. I think you are doing okay. I hope so. I try not to worry that you might be playing alone at recess. I pray.
Now when your sister naps you aren’t here. I have a glorious two hours of time to myself, time I’ve been looking forward to for months. It’s a treat, but I do miss you.
Our Lego time is on the weekends or in the evenings now. It’s far more meaningful.
Our laughter together is louder and mine more genuine when you announce “I tooted Momma!” or some other silly thing.
I listen to you more carefully when you chatter away happily about school because I haven’t been listening to you all day long.
I don’t mind when you charge into the house after school like a runaway train, your backpack, bike helmet and Superman lunch bag flying around the living room. The mess is the only one you’ve made all day.
I see you, really see you, when you look at me. I’m more curious about how you feel because I haven’t been there all day to hear what makes you sad or excited or angry.
I’m more willing to answer your endless “why?” questions because I haven’t had a steady stream of them like I used to.
When we sing our off-key bedtime duets to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Rainbow Song I think our voices mixing together may just be a little preview of what heaven sounds like.
When I wake up in the night and you’ve snuck into the middle of the big bed, with your little breaths and your hair that smells like sunshine, your arm flung on my back, I think about how lucky we are to have a snuggly nighttime visitor for a little while longer.
You give me loud, smacking kisses on my cheek. You hug me tighter and neither of us lets go as fast as we used to.
This kindergarten thing is not so bad. It’s exactly what we needed. I love you.
(An earlier version of this post was published on The Purple Fig.)
I love the way the huge evergreens in our new neighbourhood march down the street, strong, tall and steady as they’ve been for decades. Since my son is in kindergarten now, the pattern of our days has changed. I take advantage of the hilly streets and most days go for a big walk with my daughter on the way home from school drop-off.
It is a luxury to spend this precious one-on-one time with such a darling companion. There’s usually nowhere to rush off to, no need to continually divide my attention among two children. I’m free to release my daughter from her stroller whenever she feels like it, to run and splash and laugh crazily in the perfect puddles left after last evening’s downpour.
There is no quicker cure for crabby children on a rainy day than a blanket fort. If I really want to have happy kids all I need to do is start tossing the couch cushions onto the floor. My son starts dragging stuffed animals, blankets & pillows to the living room from all over the house. My daughter bounces around with glee knowing that it’s time to play. So many times when the kids ask to build a fort I say no; it makes such a disaster out of the house, is a pain to clean up, etc. But once in a while I like to say yes. This kind of smile is what it happens:
The silence is almost palpable. My daughter is napping and my son is at kindergarten for his first full day.
In typical Murphy’s law predictability, my son stopped napping the month after his sister was born. If you’ve ever taken care of young ones, you know that naps are golden. When all the children in the house are napping there may be time for Momma to put her feet up, which is precious in the early months of four to five hours of sleep a night. When someone doesn’t nap, Momma is on duty from 5:30 a.m. (in my case) until 8:30 p.m. with no lunch, bathroom or sanity break. (Oh wait! I was on duty all night too!)
In those early, early months of being a mother of two, I would sometimes look ahead and count up the years and months until my son would head to kindergarten. Days that felt like weeks and hours that felt like days were often wrapped up in a big ball of guilt because I wasn’t enjoying every second of motherhood. It goes without saying that I love my children fiercely, but most days a break would have made stay-at-home motherhood a lot easier.
The finish line of having two young ones at home is here and I have mixed feelings. Part of my boy is still that tiny baby who I rocked for hours and sang a million verses of “You Are My Sunshine” to; the little boy who would burrow his tiny face into my chest and smile big cheeky grins as we played in the sunbeam on the carpet.
He was my initiation into parenthood. He put up with my mistakes, shrugged them off and loved me intensely anyways.
Since I’m a teacher, people have asked me if I will home school. My son is so blatantly, obviously ready for kindergarten that the thought of home schooling him just seems wrong. He’s got one foot out the door and to slam it would be to shut down this whole natural rhythm of letting go.
When his sister and I waited with him for his teacher to open the classroom door today, he was full of nervous excitement. His favourite stuffie was tucked into the new Superman lunch kit, the little doggie face peeking out to give my son the boost of courage he needed. There were no tears, from him or I. I felt a little choked up. The day was so BIG.
The bell rang and he ran into line with the other kids without looking back. I turned to strap my daughter into her stroller and suddenly felt a leg-crushing hug from behind. “I just needed one more hug, Momma.” So did I little bud. So did I.
I squeezed my hands into yellow rubber gloves and headed for the toilet. Glamorous.
After leaving this gruesome chore for far too many
weeks months, I shut myself in the basement bathroom and told the kids I wasn’t coming out until it was clean.
I avoid rubber gloves, raw meat and cleaning toilets. The minute my hands are inaccessible is the exact moment that my children need me. (You know, Murphy’s Law again.)
In the newborn years and especially in the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, time is of the essence.
In the newborn-AND-a-toddler years, Momma is always watching. Always on high alert. Ready to jump up and fly across the room to catch a falling child, grab an angry kid-hand before it strikes, catch a falling plate of spaghetti or grab a cup of milk before it splashes all over the kitchen.
Society scoffs at helicopter parents. We judge them and think, “Ha…they should be giving their kids more space.” and “How are their children ever going be independent?”
It’s a different story when the kids are tiny and you are the one responsible all day long, all night long and all week long.
The moment a new momma is handed her first baby she is responsible. The feeding, sleeping, safety, emotional well-being and intellectual development of a teeny tiny person are her responsibility. Hopefully Dad is there to help but Mom is usually the one bearing the emotional weight of it around the clock.
When my son was born the heaviness of the responsibility hit me full-on. I would tell myself “Women do this all the time all over the world. Suck it up. You’re the mother now. Relax.” When my daughter came along I revved up into an even higher gear, this time bouncing back and forth between the two like a ping-pong ball, trying (often failing) to meet their pressing needs simultaneously.
When my arms were elbow-deep in the toilet this morning, I realized something.
The kids called: “Momma, can you please get me a snack?” “Mommy, find my soother!” I kept saying, “You can do it! I’ll help you in a second!” After a few minutes of this, they stopped asking. It got very, very quiet. I peeked out of the bathroom.
My 2-year-old daughter was helping my 5-year-old son do up the zipper on his Superman costume.
My son found his own shiny red cape and velcro belt in the costume basket.
My daughter dug around under the blanket and popped her own soother in her mouth.
My son was at the sink, washing strawberries and cutting off the green parts with a kitchen knife for his little sister.
They were just fine. They were a little more independent than they had been the day before.
Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the day to day-ness of parenting that I don’t notice when things shift a little. Difficult behaviours or patterns that drive me crazy for weeks or months mysteriously disappear overnight and replace themselves with something new.
The changes come a bit at a time, maybe even when I’m just cleaning the bathroom.
*This story was first posted on The Purple Fig.