One night last week, I lay in bed weeping, because my little girl is going to kindergarten - NEXT YEAR. Not even soon, but I realize that once school starts, that's it. The day to day, constant interaction is over- forever. That's the part that gets me- Forever. There will never be another time when I will be in constant contact with her. Never again will I have to leave the bathroom door open all day so she can follow behind and talk to me while I pee. She often talks about when she will be a baby again, and I try to tell her about aging and how it only works one way, but she just ignores me. I wish she was right; that age is a cyclical thing, and that she would regress back into babyhood every once in a while.
But not really. Even if it were possible to have her as a baby again for a while, for me it would be unsustainable. I would crack, crack into pieces and what is left of my brain would leak out my ears.
Babies are a lot of work. Even now, I am all too familiar with the middle of the night; I see 2 and 3 a.m. with alarming regularity. I can shuffle bleary eyed through darkness and find clean diapers, medicine droppers, teddy bears tangled in blankets. I am up and functional in an instant, my reflexes and hearing honed through the trial by fire known as early infancy. Sounds awful, doesn't it? It is. Sleep deprivation is an enhanced interrogation technique.
My need for sweet, snuggly babies and my need to be a whole, real, grown up autonomous person are of equal intensity. They pull against each other, and somehow co-exist in my psyche. I simultaneously want and don't want to be with Audrey all day. I feel relief and regret in equal measures when I drop her off at school. Sometimes the opposing forces are such that my neurons feel they are coming apart.
It kills me that there will be a time when I won't be able to just grab her and squeeze her. For example, when she's 30, she won't let me pretend to eat her cheeks. At what age do I have to stop reaching into her shirt to coo, "What a soft little belly!" Probably soon, sooner than I want to. Between the sleep deprivation and the melancholy, I am beginning to see why all moms are ever so slightly crazy.
I can ease the longing, desperate ache somewhat by trying to be really present with her, by truly appreciating each hug, each crack up, each time we pretend to be magnetized to each other, and pull away as far as we can until bonking back together, faces squished and her laughing so much that her nose runs all over my cheek. That seems to help.
Sleeping more will help, too, I suppose. When she's a teenager she'll sleep til noon- that will be so sweet. I recently told someone about my daughter's sleep issues, and realized that I have slept through the night exactly twice in the past 5 years. Twice. Most nights I wake up just enough to scoot over when she climbs into bed with us, but there are still quite a few times she feels a party coming on around 3 a.m. It's hard to tell someone to stop talking at that hour without swearing. Not my inner child so much, but my inner 20 year old is absolutely horrified by this. Sleep has always been my dear, dear friend. I haven’t slept 8 full hours in a row since I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant (by that time my esophagus was jammed up next to the roof of my mouth, so sleeping was an issue, what with digestive fluid coating my throat and all). Thankfully the sleep deprivation has so addled my brain that I don’t really notice it much.
Still, in a perverse way I will miss this time, and I miss her babyness. I actually miss trying to eat dinner holding a flailing child on my lap, food sticking to the walls, to the floor, to my hair. I want her to *stay*- to be my baby forever and ever. I don't ever want to be without her. I have wanted that at every stage of her life; each time she changes and grows I think, "This. This is the best, and I don't want it to ever change." But of course it does change, and that change is always, always for the better. I feel so lucky to be able to witness her becoming more herself. It is a fascinating process. However, I will never see the Her That She Was again; that baby is gone. Babies go away...they don't tell you that part.
I was unprepared for this dichotomy of feeling; of both loving and hating everything to do with life as a parent. Most parenting books talk about how much work it is to have and care for a child, but what they don't say is that it is horrendously boring work. It's boring, and it's tedious, and it makes me tired. Living with and caring for small children is about messes, bodily fluids, frustration, sleeplessness, and hours of boredom. Not the "there's nothing to do" kind of boredom; the "seriously if I have to pretend I am a cat while making this plastic cow walk up and down the dollhouse stairs for one more minute I swear I will die" kind of boredom. That's what makes it hard. You need to be on, you need to be aware of everything that is going on and potentially harmful. It is difficult to do anything else (read, work, drink vodka straight from the bottle) because you have to be ready to swing into action at a moment's notice to keep her from killing herself. Besides, aren't you supposed to be interacting with your kid?
Because that's what you do. This is her life; this is not some one-off babysitting gig where you can let her sit in front of some awful Disney movie all day, because it's not All Day, it's Every Day. This is her childhood, this, right here, this cow and these stairs and me meowing my head off. This is important.
I am glad I had kids, and I am sorry to see this part of it go. Sorry doesn't even begin to explain it. I am devastated to see it go. She starts kindergarten next year-- and then that's it. That's it, I am done, thanks for the help, we'll call you in to consult, but the day to day is done. and she's going to get older, and soon I won't be able to fix her problems just by being there. Soon there will be mean girls, and homework, and she'll know that one day she'll die, and I'll die, and I can't fix that. I can't make that better for her. Soon she won't come thumping into our room at 3am, and snuggle her warm soft body up to me. Soon she will turn to other people for comfort. There will be a time in my life when an alarm clock wakes me up, not the sound of 1000 legos hitting the floor all at once. Soon the middle of the night will be foreign territory again. Our relationship will change, and I will maybe not even remember what was so sad today. I hope that Future Me, the rested me who goes to the gym regularly and can finish reading a novel in less than a year, the Me who has the time to pursue her career and go to the movies, I hope she is happy, and satisfied, and fulfilled in her relationship with Audrey. I hope she remembers me with fondness, but not wistfulness. But I am pretty sure she will. The dichotomy is why moms are nuts. So hug your mom today.