Act I, sc i[my living room, every toy we own is on the floor]
Me: We’re going to be late for school, it’s time to clean up.
4 year old: I’ll help you clean up because it’s my mess too.
Me: Actually, it’s all your mess.[He picks up a harmonica from the toy pile and starts blowing]
4 year old: How about I play music while you clean up?[Cue a Blues Traveller riff, while my head explodes]
I think every mother sometimes feels like she has multiple personalities — the nurturer and the enforcer, the woman who cannot wait until bedtime and the woman who wishes she could freeze time, the woman who’s cool under pressure and the woman who is one missing shoe away from losing her shit. Nothing makes me feel this more than straddling the worlds of toddlers and teenagers. There are days I feel I exist in two separate and very different realms: next week, my youngest will finish his first year of preschool and just a few weeks later my oldest will graduate from eighth grade. The age difference between my children covers the distance between potty training and puberty, circle time and sex ed. With a four year old and and two middle schoolers, I often feel the conflicting desires of wanting to move some days along, yet slow down the passage of time.
A few weeks ago, I had the surreal experience of dropping my son at preschool and meeting my daughter and her future guidance counselor to organize her schedule for high school, all in the same morning. At the preschool, there’s brightly decorated walls, carefully labeled cubbies, small chairs and stations with play-dough, blocks and crayons. The morning passes quickly — it’s only two and half hours — and then I’m back to carting around a four year old shadow who, for as fun as he is, slows down every single activity I try to do. There are days that I feel very much in the weeds: sleepless nights, unpredictable swings in temperament, always trying to move us along just a little faster.
But trying to speed up time is a tricky thing. I look at my daughter, ready to begin high school and I know that the next four years are going to pass too quickly. In that time, my youngest will only be in second grade, but my daughter will be on the precipice of adulthood. The thing with being in the throes of toddlerhood, of parenthood in general, is that it’s hard to enjoy sometimes. One of my early motherhood friends had a dish towel that said, “Raising children is like getting pecked to death by chickens.” The demands — physical and emotional — are constant and often mind-numbingly ridiculous. Today alone, I’ve already answered 7,000 questions that include, but are not limited to, things like “where does the Easter bunny live?” (somehow he answered this himself: the library basement), and “what do green and brown make?” (a mess), there are ill-timed bathroom needs, the refusal to wear anything I suggest or to get dressed at all, and at any given point in the day, there are tears. But then, before you know it, you’re sitting in front of a counselor, selecting high school courses, with a teenager who is moderately self-sufficient and contemplating a future that will be upon us before we can imagine — and she is so far past the cubbies, lost mittens and shoes on the wrong feet that I can hardly remember it.
And, I’m okay with this. I like where we are now. Not to say that I don’t tear up when I read essays on the passage of childhood, but I like having two children who roll their eyes at me, but laugh at my jokes. Instead of watching some inane behavior and thinking, “What the hell are you doing?” I can actually say it aloud. They put themselves to bed, they do their homework themselves, and, most days, they even get themselves to school. There are challenges of middle school — and ahead, no doubt — that can be hard to sort through, but for the most part, they talk instead of tantrum. And despite the fact that some nights I’d rather stay home and have a glass of wine instead of drive a carpool, the truth is, I even love that: they talk openly, I hear their music, their candid opinions on teachers, celebrity gossip and even politics. I get to see young adults forming as they interact with each other and with me.
Sometimes I feel better cut out for this age than the toddler years, but maybe when I no longer have a toddler that too will change. Around Easter, as I started to see signs for the town egg hunt at our local park, my first thought was tinged with sadness, “Oh, my kids are too old.” And, of course, two of them are. However, my youngest is the perfect age for an egg hunt in the park. Turns out, I’m more interested in the nostalgia than actually standing in a dewy field at 10 a.m. on a cool Saturday morning in March, trying to make small talk with other parents as my son body-checks someone’s tender first child. And though the valentines, egg hunts, elves and leprechaun-traps sound adorable, I might just be the type of parent who’d prefer to admire those things through the Pinterest account of my fourteen year old daughter (rather than with markers and construction paper in the back seat of my car because I forgot to bring cards on the day of the preschool valentine’s party).
Maybe I’m speaking prematurely. After all, I still have the “baby” to cuddle when he allows. In another year, when my youngest hits kindergarten, I’ll be back to the book fairs, school shows, birthday parties, and supervised play dates where we awkwardly coach our crying children through the despised task of sharing — all while coaching my older two to share slightly less on Snapchat. I get to start all over again. Maybe, this time I’ll be the woman enjoying every minute. Maybe I’ll be the woman wanting the days to pass. Perhaps both. Either way, it’ll be awhile before I have a chance to feel nostalgic. Let’s not rush it.