One night 13 years ago I was studying for my Civil Procedure exam. I had spent weeks memorizing all these intricate rules and exceptions and so and and so forth when suddenly, the night before the exam, it hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue: the entire course was about how to file an action in civil court. I knew so much about it, and yet I hadn't really understood anything because the whole point of it had eluded me.
I think I do that with life, all the time. Andrew turned ten yesterday and I either need to plunge into some deep exploration of the changes I need to make in myself or I need some medication because I am feeling heartsick and desperate about it. Have I been a good enough mom? Did he have a happy childhood? Did we fill those years with the right things, in the right way? Did I waste it?
Since I was a kid myself, before ten, I have been unhealthily aware of time, and yet somehow a whole decade still got by me. A little baby is now halfway through with growing up, and these last 8 years at home, two fewer than we have had together so far, will be marked by an increasing separation. He will be peeling off of the foundation provided, by which I really mean to say, he will be peeling himself off of me. I know how unhealthy that sounds. But when your baby is born, adhesion is just basically the most accurate characterization of the relationship between mom and baby. In Andrew's case that was especially true. He could not remain asleep, even, if he were not resting right atop someone's chest. He seemed to require that he burrow deeply into the embrace of another person. I spent the first four to six months of his life with him connected to me. At night, Brigham and I took turns snuggling him, his personal sleep-support system. The kid didn't sleep independently until he was 2 and Will's birth ejected him into his own room.
And now that baby is ten. He's gone through his phases: dressing in costumes for his daywear, obsessions with certain movies (Cars), or toys (monster trucks and Lightning McQueen), or little tv shows (Scooby Doo). Life with little tiny kids is so exhausting that we welcome the growing independence and the little changes, sometimes without registering that these changes are what the whole thing is about. He wasn't born to be a baby or a little kid, he was born to be an adult and that's what he is going to be. Soon.
I am reading To The Lighthouse right now, so that's another strike against mental health right there. In it, the main character realizes that her children will never be as happy again as they are in their childhoods. That is a sad thought, but I disagreed, based on my own life--which was characterized by a happy childhood. I feel like being a young mom has been the most real period in my own life, and much of it my kids won't really even remember. Already don't remember. They are the center of my life but I am not to be the center of theirs, and they will only vaguely recall those early years when I was. This is where the advice comes in to live your own life and not have your world revolve around your kids. I can see the value in that counsel, for sure. I am not prepared to say which is the best way, though. Maybe, though, that is part of what it means to give wholly of yourself to your kids. Not as a martyr. That description feels demeaning to the holy sacrifices involved in parenting. But rather in the way that Christ taught us to love one another and the way that He loved us, living each day of His life for us. In a way that they will understand when they grow up and become parents, giving of themselves for their children.
Ok, at ten Andrew is a lot of fun and very companionable. He is a diligent if disorganized student, a usually sweet and supportive brother--who yet also will earnestly admit to feelings of jealousy over perceived lack of attention, and very helpful. Last month I somehow had all five kids in Costco at the dinner hour. And Halloween costumes were up, as were Christmas toys. Everything fell into pandemonium and it became necessary to heave Claire back into the cart and bolt out of there. Charlie nearly toppled from my front pack in the effort, and Claire banged her flailing leg on the side of the cart. She screamed and sobbed in pain and frustration and jealousy, since I was holding Charlie during her moment of need. Andrew just casually swept over and scooped her out of the cart and into his arms, where she settled down. I plan on doing a little interview with him and asking him some questions about himself and his goals for the future, but for right now I think that little anecdote summarizes Andrew right now.