My kids are five and seven. There’s hardly a reason to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Or is there? For me, the young years were the hardest. I know we have a lot ahead of us – middle school, high school, dating, curfew. I hate to think that in the teen years I’ll be searching for a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m sure there will be days (or moments, like in the middle of a screaming match if my kids are anything like me and my sister) when I’m ready for them to head on out to college. But witnessing how fast time flies as you watch your child grow, I can’t anticipate searching for a future light at the end of some dark tunnel.
I have arrived at the other side of my baby tunnel. It is amazing the way my body has felt so freed up in the past few weeks. Both children are in elementary school. I am teaching two days a week at the kids’ old preschool. It is a strange new sense of “refreshed” which I haven’t felt in the past seven years.
My first daughter, Sammy, was (still is) very sensitive. As a baby she needed her crib to sleep, so my life was: run an errand then move like hell to get home for nap! Well the kid gets her sensitivity from me. When I sense someone’s unease, I feel unease myself. And by unease I mean tension. It’s as if my nerves and muscles are tied up in a knot waiting for some fiasco to occur. Sammy crying for her bottle made my blood hot, my pulse race, beads of sweat form on my forehead, neck hair stand on edge. I have no idea what it feels like to hear a baby cry and not feel any physical need to make it stop. Sometimes I thought “maybe if I had a third, it’d be different.” But I don’t think I’m that kind of momma. I’m like Pavlov’s dog, but instead of a bell, it’s: baby cry; fix it! Fix It! BY GOD FIX IT NOOOOOOOWWW! Lovely way to spend a solid ten or so months. Not that it ended there.
At the playground, my kid was the one who let others push her to the side while she waited her turn for the slide. I mean, what eighteen-month old wants to wait their turn? Not gonna happen. So I’d stand nearby and watch while momma bear emotions percolated inside me. At the ripe age of toddlerhood, I began to teach my girl to self-advocate. “My turn, ok? Say my turn when it’s your turn.” And I’d say a little silent prayer that she would find some inner feisty-ness before she ventured to the big, bad world of School.
Second baby came along and she had colic. Oh my God. There was screaming. There was cussing. There was scream-cussing. For instance, we had put Ellie down, hoping she’d fall asleep for the night with, you know, a giant knot in my stomach, waiting on pins and needles for any signs of waking up, i.e. screaming (she did not cry until she was over a year old. Twelve months and under was all screams.) Anyways, maybe Chris and I were on the sofa starting to watch a show, or washing dishes. Or making a path through the piles of crap everywhere. And when Ellie let out her awake scream, one of us would fling a, “aren’t you gonna fucking hurry up the stairs?! Fucking hurry!!” But after she was finally, really, really, asleep for the night, we’d rendezvous back at the sofa, or in the bedroom with a, “any special lunch plans tomorrow?” as if the colic-induced cussing never occurred. It was a magical time.
But even fun activities in the “baby years” put me on edge. Going to the movies with a couple of toddlers was a treat. Watching a cute toddler watch a movie is a joy. Big, wide eyes staring at the mammoth screen, toddler laughter at silly previews. And the time Poppy bought the large popcorn, well you could only see Ellie’s head popping up over the lip of the container. But otherwise, they sat next to me, “balancing” their kiddie pack of popcorn and powerade in their laps. And you know I didn’t relax one minute of the movie, just sitting there waiting on the edge of my seat to catch a flying pack of popcorn before it hit the nasty floor.
Here, on the other side of the tunnel, new things occur right before my eyes. Instead of cringing when a kid holds a glass of juice in their hand, they are now able to drink their juice and carry the glass back to the kitchen and put it in the dishwasher. The dishwasher!!! No more seventeen trips from the table to the dishwasher to put away dishes after a meal (or third snack of the day)?! This is big time! I even watched my five year old dress herself, make her bed, and sweep the garage at 6:55 a.m.! It was all to receive a dollar for ice cream at school, but still! Hot damn, I can really manipulate some bribery if she’s so invested in that ice cream money!
Now when I arrive at work at the preschool, Land of the Baby Years, I watch the cuteness – the stuff that used to tense my muscles – tiny toddlers walking down the hall, glancing back to wave bye-bye to mommy or daddy and suddenly running head-on into the water fountain. Or even the wall. In the classroom, when a two year old is called to walk to the front of the room, there is a stumble, a trip, another stumble, and the potential head-on collision with a classmate before successfully making it the eight steps to the front of the room. And lucky me, now that I no longer have two stumbling toddlers of my own to drag to school, I arrive at work with relaxed muscles and this new, exciting feeling that I’m able to give to others – energy!