(This is the piece I read on stage for Listen To Your Mother:Portland 2015. Text and video!)
On a recent trip to the grocery store my two-year-old held my hand and walked along with me. She did not run away as she had done the thousands of previous times we have attempted a public appearance. She did not stop every two inches to admire the wares, pull the bottom apple from the fruit pyramid, stick her hand into a bulk container of flour, or fall into a boneless heap on the floor when I asked her to follow along with me instead of unshelving boxes in the cereal aisle.
Fearful of dissolving the magic of this exquisite behavior, I waited to celebrate until we were safely in the car, then let loose with loud praise. There was dancing, station-wagon-shaking-don’t-care-who-sees-me dancing. My baby was so pleased with herself, I think she might consider blessing me with a similar shopping experience again soon.
This momentous errand marks a much anticipated shift in the kind of mothering I do. I’ve long been looking forward to a day when grocery shopping would once again be just that, instead of a dreaded event that requires every ounce of my physical strength and emotional well-being to accomplish.
The future is here. The increased self-sufficiency of my children is upon me.
It won’t be long now...
… until no one under my supervision will believe it is their job to bolt away from me towards traffic or tackle unsuspecting children on the playground.
I will be able to take one child to a swimming lesson without having to fish the other fully-clothed one out of the pool.
”What's in your mouth?” will not be the phrase I speak most frequently, nor will it be followed by multiple slobbery marbles, or wads of toilet paper, or pocket change being spit into my hand.
I envision taking a walk through our neighborhood as something involving free movement and an even pace. No thirty-five pound struggling toddler on my hip or pushing the equivalent of my weight in a loaded double stroller.
Already, everyone in our house can visit the bathroom by themselves. (Please note the difference between ability and actual practice.)
Any moment now, my youngest will stop plunging her hand down my shirt to hold my breasts for comfort, in public. (It’s like her security blanket. The right one, mostly. My husband has asked me not to talk about it at dinner parties anymore, but this is fine.)
Soon, I will enjoy a meal without that same child awkwardly planting herself on my lap between me and my dinner, so that I have to cut and eat with my non-dominant hand, trying not to drop my lasagna onto my little girl’s head, while she slops hers down the front of herself and onto my pants.
Instead, there will be no little girl on my lap.
Maybe I don’t like where this is going.
My five-year-old is learning to read. She takes turns reading her books to me now at bedtime. And I loved it, until I realized she’s going to read me right out of a job.
My youngest still falls asleep in my arms for an afternoon nap.
Holding her while she sleeps, I don’t care if I never experience another effortless errand, or the easing of lower back pain.
I’m a flip-flopper.
The push and pull, love and let go of life has always been especially hard for me. I’ve been known to buy a second pair of shoes I love, compelled by the thought of the first pair wearing out.
I can’t get a new pair of my babies.
When it comes to my ever-evolving children I’m always just a moment away from losing my mind to mixed feelings.
I want to breathe my girls’ hair and press my cheek to theirs for the rest of my life, but I also want to ship them to Gibraltar so I can eat a sandwich in peace.
There doesn’t seem to be a balancing point between celebrating the preciousness of now and JUST NEEDING A BREAK ALREADY, between mourning the loss of babyhood and knowing the next phase of our lives will deliver fresh magic. I simultaneously celebrate the achievement of a two-wheeled bike rider and sob through congratulations at the thought of her growing too big to scoop up and comfort after a crash.
My big girl swears she'll always come running and jump into my arms when I pick her up from school. My little girl promises not to grow too big to be carried.
From the depths of sleeplessness, poopiness and tantrums, I have longed for the next place, wished for physical relief and the ability to resume interrupted personal plans. My body and stamina are begging for this transition, but my poor heart is aching with loss. I’m excited. I’m heartbroken. It’s going to be great. I’m not sure I’ll survive it.
Soon there will be no more hundreds of “I love you’s” a day, or being told I’m the, “best mommy in da ho wide wuwuld.”
I won’t be knocked to the ground from the force of a child who doesn’t break pace when charging at me for a hug.
I will lose the sense of being able to protect my daughters from all harm- just by holding them close to me.
I will cease to be their entire world, and they will cease to be mine.
As my girls gain new abilities, they are visibly tugged in opposing directions. They are hungry to try out their freedom, but hesitant to wander so far they can’t easily return to my safe, loving embrace.
It goes both ways.
I am looking forward to taking a walk on my own, but I will need a big hug from my children when I get home.