Thursday, October 11, 2012

Time Machine

I need a time machine.

I was looking at some old photos of the girls the other day - they periodically ask us to show them pictures of themselves as babies - and was struck with a bit of nostalgia about those tiny-fingernails days. It's kind of a strange feeling for me because I remember being SO stressed out back then, and I really have zero desire for another infant now. I have learned that I am not capable of taking a philosophical view of sleep deprivation, and I remember that I often felt like I had no idea what I was doing and that everything was so fraught with danger. My love was so big. My need to get it right was so intense. I can't say that I really enjoyed it, I just NEEDED to do it. In all caps - I'm surprised everything I wrote back then wasn't littered with italics and all caps and exclamation points, just like a teenager's diary - I just CAN NOT believe this is happening to ME!!!!!! (OK, half the stuff I write these days still looks like that. Oh, well.)

Maggie - 1 Week

And yet, from my current vantage point, I did seem fairly competent back then. Their needs were basic, and fulfilling them was hard physical work but fairly straight-forward. Being a good mother felt good to do, unlike being a good mother to a 5 year old, which sometimes results in them telling you that you are a meanie and they don't like you anymore. True, that first baby is a circus of self-doubt and confusion, but the second is much more manageable - you're a pro! I feel like now I could look like an expert in baby-raising if I had the guts/insanity to do it again... but I don't, so don't get excited. Because the reality is that being a good mother to a screaming, colicky baby when you are totally exhausted does not actually seem simple or feel good at all. Oh yeah, it's all coming back to me now. The grass really is only greener wherever you've spread the fertilizer.

Maggie - 3 Weeks

My mother warned me about wishing away their childhoods. She told me how easy it is to keep telling yourself, "I just have to get through this. Just a couple more months. As soon as she gets old enough to do this or that or not do this, then everything will be great." And then one day it's all behind you and you can't go back. I'm not sure that this wishing away is entirely possible to avoid, at least perhaps for people like me. Maybe I just don't handle the stress very well, but I find it mostly impossible to just relax and enjoy everything, and coaching myself to practice endurance is sometimes the best I've got.

Maggie - 7 Months

It's such a shame really, because one solid truth about raising children is that each age has pros and cons. No single stage is all good or all bad, and as soon as you get past this current one, you just land right in the middle of the next one with all it's joys and horrors. I do believe everyone has certain ages you are just better at parenting, based on your personality and lifestyle, and the cons of those ages are diminished by your feelings of competence. Hooray for those little seasons of calm! However, the flip side is that there are going to be ages that you are not equipped to manage smoothly, and consequently even what joys there are to be had are obscured in shadows. Parenthood loves to pull the rug out from under you just when you think you have something (anything) figured out.

Maggie - 16 Months

This is why I need a time machine. What I most wish is that I had the ability to jump back and forth in time to witness and experience my children in smaller doses so that I could appreciate each age and stage better. What heaven to be able to take a short vacation from a tantruming three year old and zip back to that long dark night awake with a nursing infant. I've slept decently for days in a row at present, so how lovely to be able to relieve my weary 2007 self and spend a few hours rocking my little tiny one in the silence of a sleeping house. My 2007 self can flash forward and enjoy that extra 30 minutes of laying in bed at all of 7 am (luxury!) on a Saturday while the girls screech and torture the cats but blissfully do not come out of their rooms and demand breakfast.

Maggie - 23 Months, Kate - 1 Day

When my preschoolers are telling me another inane story while they watch the same episode of Dora for the 60,000th time - or being deliberately irrational about a pair of socks or something equally stupid - it would be so nice to jump into the future to have a conversation about life or anything interesting and meaningful with my teenagers, or even just be there to introduce them to Monty Python movies or Douglas Adams books. I just have to remember to get the heck out of there before they ask my permission to go to a punk club in Slumaville at midnight or want to talk to me about anything embarrassing!

Kate - 1 Month

But it's not really about only avoiding the negative situations in life as much as it would be about gaining some perspective when you (I) need it. Besides just surfing through happy birthday parties and Christmas mornings, I'm sure that after a big fight about independence and boundaries with my 11 and 13 year olds, I would really appreciate being able to flash back to observe my 2 and 4 year olds throw themselves on the ground a weep over lollipops (or lack thereof) ...and laugh my freakin' ass off!! What was I so upset about back then?!? What a piece of cake! No you can't have a lollipop. The end. Your behavior is ludicrous, and I am not moved by your crying. Period. Or maybe when you need to give yourself a time out before you strangle your potty trainer for peeing on the kitchen floor while you are cooking dinner (even though you just asked her twice if she needed to go), you could flash forward to the night when the cops bring your junior high schooler home. That mess is not quite so easy to clean up. Simpler times, man.

Maggie - 2.5, Kate - 6 Months

I guess this is why our parents are so hell-bent on forcing us to make them grandparents. Being a grandparent must be a little bit like having your own time machine. "This baby looks quite a bit like my baby and reminds me of how happy I was having a baby - and now I will give it back to its parents and go home and take a nap! Yay!" It also may explain why people with children are always trying to convince their friends and relatives to have babies. "You should TOTALLY have a baby! Then I can come over and visit your baby!" And then I'll go home and say, "Thank GOD I don't have a baby anymore. Whew! I'm going to watch three episodes of House Hunters while my kids play Legos by themselves in the playroom. Yay!"

Maggie - 3, Kate - 16 Months

Unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to be getting that time machine anytime soon. I'm just going to have to learn to deal. Looking back at pictures and hanging out with other people's kids does help put things in perspective now and then. But really, I'm on this fierce personal growth crash course and I'm going to have to keep struggling to be more patient and more present and less anxious and less expectant. Even though I know better than anyone that it's easier said than done, I really should try to appreciate where and who they are right now. My memories of the past are hazy and rosier than reality, and the future remains uncertain. Watch out, the next step is also a doozy.

Maggie - 4, Kate - 2

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