Recently, my son turned nine. Every birthday brings with it nostalgia and prompts a stock-taking, but this birthday seemed different, somehow, and not just to me. I talked to some other moms about it, friends I've known since our kids were in Mommy Group together as infants, and they agreed, this birthday felt different. Not more meaningful or anything -- it just felt like the kids had suddenly gotten really, really old. Like they'd stepped onto the bridge that takes them from little kids to the thing that come next .
My friend Grace, whose daughter is one day younger than Primo, told me: "She's nine, and that marks the halfway point of the years she'll spend living with us. We're halfway done with that part of her life. And it's happening so fast, I can't even pay attention most of the time."
I didn't stop to tell her that what with the trend of twenty and thirtysomethings continuing to live at home, her daughter might have another decade before she reaches the halfway point.
"It just made me think," Grace went on, "Am I doing a good job as a mom? I don't even have the time to think about it."
And we won't, I suspect, until much much later, until it's too late in fact, to make a difference. You'll never "enjoy them while they're young" as much as you wish you had. You'll never "savor every moment." But you savor some, and that just has to be good enough.
On Primo's birthday, all three kids were home sick: strep, strep and a double ear infection. It wasn't the birthday I'd hoped for him. I was exhausted from being up half the night with a suffering baby and I suddenly went all Tiger Mom on him and forced him to write thank you cards and drill his times tables and I yelled at him about watching too much TV. When I stopped to ask myself "Am I doing a good job?" that night, I thought, "No."
Then, a few days later, when he was back at school, I met him for lunch. We had burgers and he told me about Ponce DeLeon. And I looked at him, awe-struck, just bowled over by the enormity of it, all of it. That he was my son. That I'd carried him in me for those long months at a time that was now long ago. That there was a time before he existed. That despite of me and because of me, there was this beautiful, kind, loving, funny person sitting opposite me, a person I'd never be whole without anymore, a person I would think about, and worry about, every minute for the rat of my life and beyond, a person that was part me but more and more not-me every day. I just sat there and marveled at him, and motherhood, at time. And the moment stretched on, like something out of a Virginia Woolf novel, and it felt, for once, that I wasn't missing any of it.
I'm pretty sure it's because her Darwinian survival instinct has kicked it up a notch, but the baby has just learned to say I love you. Or, in her case, I love ew. It sometimes sounds like she's saying I low, ewww, as if the act of loving is necessary and inevitable, but nonetheless disgusting. She's not wrong.
Because she is clever, she understands that she can use these words -- which no doubt have no meaning for her except for what actions tend to follow them -- to get stuff. Sometimes she says it in what appears to me a genuine way, to communicate affection, like when she puts her head on my shoulder and accompanies this gesture with a tender "I love ew," or when she follows Seconda around, running after her sister and uttering a beseeching "I LOVE EW."
And sometimes, she'll ask for "awwanjj jus" and when I don't give it to her, she'll open the fridge and point vehemently to the Tropicana, repeating "awwanjj jus" and then, when she still doesn't get it, she'll try "i love ew?" because she knows I am, for the time being, incapable of resisting that siren song. I crumble.
Eventually, I suppose, I'll build up a tolerance to it and be able to enforce rules again. For all our sakes, I hope it's soon. But right now, I'm just luxuriating in it. I love, ewww.
You are familiar with the expression, "Something's got to give"? I have recently realized that the thing that has "given," since the addition of baby number three a year and a half ago, is my appearance. Most days, I look like shit.
I'm not trying to be self-deprecating, just honest. Despite the fact that Terza is a toddler. somehow I still feel entitled to that postpartum get-out-of-jail-free-card where I get "excused" from worrying about my appearance because, dude, I just pushed a human being out of my vagina.
After Primo was born, I was young and hardly working, so I gave myself two or three weeks in which I didn't care at all about how I looked and then, I pulled my shit together, grooming-wise. I bounced back. I had the time and energy to do this. I put on makeup, I brushed my hair. I took the thirty seconds more standing at my closet, choosing the pretty blouse over the stained T shirt. I wore earrings. Because of these small efforts, even more than the fact that I was thinner and younger, I looked generally good.
Now, with three kids and a full plate on the work front, I have neither time nor energy. Seeing as I work from home, I can get away with slovenliness, with wearing the stained T shirts, with forgoing the earrings and makeup and -- let's face it -- shampooing. Once you get used to it, you hardly even notice how lousy you look anymore.
Until you encounter some occasion for which you do decide, for a change, to dress up. I had a meeting a few weeks ago, and I made this one such occasion. I put on a dress and ankle boots. I blow-dried my hair and applied makeup -- not just lipstick, either, but a full face. I wore earrings AND a necklace. After the meeting, I went to a conference at the kids' school. And there, no less then three people DID NOT RECOGNIZE me.
Not in the sense of "Wow, you look great, I almost didn't recognize you." No, I mean that three different people literally addressed me as if they had never met me, so that I finally had to clarify, "It's me. Nicole."
"Oh my GOD," each of them said, or some variation thereof, "You. Look. Amazing."
It was shocking, really, because I hadn't done that much differently. I mean, I hadn't gotten facial reconstruction, or donned a wig or anything. I just added some earrings and eyeliner and washed my hair and BINGO! I was the supermodel version of me.
You'd think that realizing how easy it is to look inordinately better would prompt me to take the extra effort. But I'll be honest, it didn't. Nah. I'm a realist and I know that even if it only taken thirty extra minutes, I just am not willing to make those thirty extra minutes on a regular basis. Right now. Maybe when I win back some time as the baby gets older - not having to change diapers or cope with toddler meltdowns every ten minutes. What I did resolve to do right now, though, was say yes again to lipstick. Lipstick only takes thirty seconds and thirty seconds I can swing.
So, I still look like shit. But now I look like shit with lovely lips. Which I believe is an improvement.
Add another item onto the never-ending list of Reasons You Are To Blame For Everything Bad About Your Kid And His Existence: namely, It's Your Fault Your Kid's a Picky Eater. Yep, NY mag covered some recent research which seems to indicate that children of pregnant women who have a varied diet end up being more open-minded eaters. This bodes quite quite badly for my progeny as I was so miserably ill with morning sickness, all i ate was french fries, pasta with butter and mashed potatoes for nine months.
Personally, I plan on filing this particular piece of info in the category of "What, Am I Supposed to Feel Guilty About This Shit Too, Now? Forget About It."
The other day, on our way home from the playground, I took a shortcut through the skateboarding park.
Sounds like the beginning of a cautionary tale, doesn't it? Well, it is.
I was walking with all three of my children, and it was a chilly day, so we were all bundled up in down coats, hats on, rushing to get inside. I was pushing my joggling stroller, the which I never use to jog, only to carry large volumes of groceries and library books. I clung to the fence of the park, as we always do, so we wouldn't be in anyone's way. Since it was a Sunday, the park was crowded with skater dudes. No dudettes, just the usual assemblage of teenage boys in really baggy hoodies, yelling expletives.
I have a soft spot for skateboarders; I admire their chutzpah (Not scared of a little concussion, are you kids?), their workout (Atta boys! fight that childhood obesity epidemic) and their gainful engagement in a hobby (way to go, staying out of trouble, youngsters).
Last year, I signed Primo up for a semester's worth of skateboarding classes at a nearby joint. I'm always looking for creative ways to get him hooked into a physical activity, since ball sports have never been his thing, and when I took him to trial class, he was hooked. So was I -- he spent nearly three hours, honing his balancing and coordination and sweating like a grown man in a deodorant commercial, all of which made me believe (erroneously) that he might go to sleep easy that night. Unfortunately, after the third class, his passion for skateboarding had dissipated entirely, and by the fourth class, it had turned into an active dislike, so much so that he began referring to the sport as "hate boarding." I forced him to stick it out - the fee was non-refundable, after all -- but on the final class, he was heartily relieved. I was relieved I hadn't sunk money into a skateboard.
All of which is to say, I really dig skateboarding as a sport, as well as its practitioners. Or, I should say, I used to dig them. Now they are my moral enemy.
As I crossed the skateboarding park that Sunday, I noticed the skaters were being particularly loud and rambunctious (yes, I am aware that is a word only octogenarians would use to describe teenagers. Should've been a hint of what was to come). A tall teenage boy in a red hoodie and black baseball cap was waiting for a turn at the ramp and while waiting was roughhousing with his friend, a short boy in a black hoodie (hoodies are, clearly, mandatory when skateboarding; parkas, pullovers and cardigans are a no-go, no exceptions). Mr. Red Hoodie wasn't watching what he was doing and, while wrestling with Mr. Black Hoodie, almost crashed into my stroller, prompting Mr. Black Hoodie to chastise him, thus, "What, now your'e going to bump into old ladies pushing babies?"
For a second, I thought, 'I wonder why an old lady would be here, in the skate park, and why she'd be pushing a baby?" And then I stopped, literally, in my tracks and I realized THE OLD LADY WAS ME.
I swiveled around on my heels to face the teens and let my mouth fall open. It wasn't necessary but I did it on purpose to communicate my shock and chagrin.
"Oh. My. God." I said slowly, staring at them, "What did you call me?"
"Oh shit," Mr. Red Hoodie laughed, pushing his friend, "Oh man, you're in trouble. OLD lady, did you say? OLD LADY?"
"I'm so sorry ma'am," Mr. Black Hoodie protested, "SO sorry! You want to punch me? You can punch me, if you want."
"I SHOULD punch you," I told him sternly, "I should punch you for calling me an OLD LADY."
"Shit, I'm sorry," the kid offered again, and I sighed and said, "Oh, It's Ok" and wheeled back around to continue my pilgrim's progress home.
The truth was, he wasn't wrong. My body may only be thirty seven years old but I'm developing the mindset of a 70 something; maybe the third child pushed my aging process into turbo gear and now I"m on the fast track to the geriatric ward. Because when the kid almost crashed into me -- before he called me an old lady -- my thought was, "What a bunch of trouble makers. I'm glad Primo stopped skateboarding. Wouldn't want him to turn into a vagabond, like these two." I was tsk-tsking and head shaking and the whole nine yards, just the same as my grandmother would do. So I couldn't entirely fault the kid for misjudging my age. Though he might have said it a bit more softly. Discretion is a valuable skill for vagabonds of all ages.
My big kids were walking ahead and had missed the whole show, but when I told Seconda about it, she was FURIOUS.
"I'll tell those kids, those TEENAGERS," and here she paused, her voice dripping with disdain,"I'll tell them what's going to happen if they insult my mother again. They're gonna get a KNUCKLE SANDWICH. My mom's not old! She's only fifty seven!"
Nicole is a parenting writer who contributes essays and articles for magazines like Parenting, Parents, American Baby and Babble. She lives in Brooklyn with three children, one husband and a morbidly obese goldfish.