Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Growing up

Jerry Seinfeld wrote a hilarious book a few years back: "Halloween." It's based on his stand-up act and is about (surprise) Halloween and kids' costumes and all the candy they're capable of consuming. We've had it for a long time, and I still laugh every time I read it. He talks in one part about how when you're a kid, everything is "up":

"Wait up!" That's what kids say. They don't say "wait", they say "Wait up! Hey, wait up!" 'Cause when you're little, your life is up. The future is up. Everything you want is up. "Wait up! Hold up! Shut up! Mom, I'll clean up! Let me stay up!" Parents of course are just the opposite. Everything is down. "Just calm down. Slow down. Come down here. Sit down. Put that down."

And it's the "slow down" that I'm thinking about this afternoon. I want my kids to slow down and stop growing up so fast. I know it's a common complaint of parents, and what I have to say about it isn't going to offer up anything new, but I need the cathartic release so I can get back to my work without sitting here all weepy and melancholy.

When Ivan was little--just 2--I used to take him to Costco. I didn't need to go. There was nothing I could buy at a warehouse that I couldn't buy on sale at our local grocery store for the same price or less. And I have 4 kids not 14. But going there with him was a splurge of sorts, not because of the shopping but because he liked going and looked forward to his pizza and ice cream afterward. I'd buy the few things on my list--freeze-dried apples and strawberries, a bag of avocados, a case of diced tomatoes, whatever I thought I could use up before it went bad--and then I'd head to the "cafe" where I'd get him his $1.50 slice of pepperoni and his $1.00 soda. Then I'd sit with him while he ate what he could, me with all the time in the world and him in a hurry because he knew the soft-serve ice cream was next.

And that half hour we'd be eating together is what the early stages of my parenting remind me of. I had all the time in the world to sit and watch them, but they were in a hurry because they knew what came next. "When do I start kindergarten?" "When can I start having sleepovers?" "When can I walk to my friend's house alone?" "When can I stay up later?" "When can I get an iPod, a cell phone, my own laptop?" And I just want them to be content with the pizza and soda for a little longer.

Ron and I decided when Ivan was about one that we were done having children. Or rather, I decided and Ron went along with it all. I didn't think I could emotionally handle another. I didn't think I could psychologically or even physically handle another. Mothering didn't come easy to me. It's something I've had to work hard on since Day 1. I remember sitting with Simon on the floor when he was only a couple of weeks old and saying aloud, "Okay. The books say I should talk to you. But I don't know what to say." And what to say was only one of many things I didn't know.

It's been more than 12 years, and there are still many things I don't know--like how I'm going to handle Ivan starting kindergarten next year and I have 5 full days to myself each week, like how I'll handle any of them starting to date, how I'll handle them getting their hearts broken, how I'll handle them hating me or resenting me for even a brief period, how I'll handle them leaving home one at a time.

The irony of parenting is that this is what we all want all along. We want them to grow up. We want them to learn to be independent, because that's what's best for them. We want them to look ahead to the ice cream, because who doesn't love the desserts in life?

I even thought this time of my life would be one of those desserts. I wanted to be busy with work again. I wanted to have something to call my own, because no matter how much I may lay claim to my children, they don't belong to me. And now I am busy with work. And I do have something to call my own. And all of this is yet another reason I said that four was enough. I have what I want, but it's bittersweet.

And the truth is, four is enough. But I can still miss Simon at 3, coming downstairs from his nap and kissing me on the cheek while I'm waking up from my own nap. I can still miss Owen at 1, screaming at the top of his lungs for his breakfast--and then laughing hysterically throughout dinner at anything and everything around him. I can still miss Emma at 4, telling me that hearing me get angry at anyone is "a sad story." I can still miss Ivan at nap time today saying, "Thank you that I get to hug Mommy" in his prayer.

The future is up. And I look forward to all the pizza, soda, and ice cream ahead of us. But I just need it to slow down a little so I can capture every moment of it and play it again and again. And again. Because these times are my desserts. And I want to be able to savor them for as long as possible.


Ron said...

"Thank you that I get to hug mommy." brought tears to my eyes. Partly because Ivan is so sweet to share that thought and partly because I'm so grateful that each of my kids have been able to hug mommy whenever they needed to.

Bobbie said...

Thanks, Ron. I am, too.

Jennifer said...

For our small family, having two right together (within 3 years) and one tagalong (5 years distance) has been very revelatory for all of us. Our family was made, but Willoughby forged. And I didn't know we weren't complete without him. And you know, I was about ready to leap from the mommy ledge and splash right into deep, blue, singular personhood. Yanked right back from the brink by so small a line, most people wouldn't have stopped to think.
Thank you.

Bobbie said...

Jennifer, I'm a planner. I'm a list maker. I email myself in the evening to remind myself the next day of what I have to get done and what would be nice to get done. So I always planned to plan my family. But it started out by accident. And that was my first lesson that families are almost always accidental, and that's what makes them so much more fulfilling than checking off the to-do list. I'm glad those thin lines can grow to mean so much.