September, 2014. It’s a date that I frequently repeat sometimes quietly; sometimes loudly; often mindlessly. September 2014 is when ALL four of my children will be of school going age, and for once, I will have some free time to myself. That is, all things being equal and the world doesn’t come to an end 3 days after Christmas this year.
As any person who has looked after young children will tell you, it’s incredibly hard work. It’s harder still when you’re not getting paid cold hard cash for it, and your only reward is in “smile equity”. When your children are as young as mine, those remittances are few and far between. My little ones spend more time yelling at one another (which in turn means I have to yell louder to get them to quiet down) than smiling at one another (which in turn means I spend less time smiling). An article that was published recently on Yahoo! only confirmed what I have known and felt all along – raising children under pre-school age is a depressive affair. Vindicated by this print article, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks repeating my mantra – quoting and re-quoting my expected date of emancipation from the bondages of this “depressing” phase motherhood: September, 2014.
However as of this morning, I’ve ceased this refrain.
My eldest daughter, Nadjah, as anyone who knows her knows, is keenly sensitive and wildly observant. As I’ve gone blithering on about “how I can’t wait for the kids to grow up” and “ooh! I can’t wait till they’re all in college”, she has interpreted it as “I can’t wait for you lot to get out of my house – because I don’t want you.” She told me so last night.
“I know what you’re favorite day is going to be, Mommy,” she said as she undressed to get ready for her bath.
“I know what day you can’t wait for,” she repeated. “It’s the day we all grow up and leave you alone.”
Her words stunned me, not only because they were unxpected and unrelated to anything to Once Upon A Time (which I was watching on TV and totally focused on), but also because of the wryness with which she said them. I could tell she was really hurt by the thought that her mother didn’t want her around.
As with anything that is difficult for me to deal with, I deflected by using humor.
“That’s not the day I look forward to,” I said solemnly. “The day I’m looking forward to is when I get old and you have to wipe my butt.”
“And you’ll have to burp me,” I continued. “Just like I did to you when you were a baby.”
I held my chin and patted my own back.
“Just like that.”
“I’ll wipe your butt for you Mommy!” Aya promised enthusiastically. Her unexpected offer was very amusing to me because of the earnestness with which she made it; As though she were promising to clean her room later. She was lying on the floor with her feet above her head, examining her toes as she uttered her words. Clearly the thought of wiping her aged mother’s butt was completely natural to her.
Nadjah seemed happy enough with this turn in the conversation, and then began to press me on who was the hardest baby to take care of, who was the easiest, and so on. By this time the commercial break was over and I was in no mood to either stroke her ego or possibly hurt her feelings any further. SHE was the hardest to look after. She was not only my first child, but she was also a preemie. Those first 8 months alone with her were no cake walk. I know my child well enough to know that she would take it personally, so I ignored her new line of questioning.
I went to bed last night a bit shaken by our brief conversation, and have decided to alter its ending. I’m going to take Nadjah out for some hot chocolate after school (or iced tea – depending on what this Atlanta weather does tonight), where I hope our chat will go something like this:
“Nadjah, I want you to know that I love you very much. I never want you to think that I don’t like having you around, because I do. I want you to grow up not because I want you to leave, but because I’m looking forward to doing MORE things with you. I don’t want you to think that I’m looking forward to you leaving me, because I know that I’ll be sad on the day that you do. I’ll be happy to see you grown up and accomplished one day, but it’ll still be sad to see someone that I’ve lived with for 18-20 years move on and out. But I know one day you’ll be back…because when I’m old and aged, I’ll need you to wipe my butt.”
As a mother, it’s often easy to get self-absorbed and caught up in the tangled pursuit of being a “good mom” and personal freedom. It’s a hard a tricky row to hoe. Words have power, and are the driving force behind any accomplishment. What do I want to accomplish with and for my children? It’s easy to also forget that we’re not lone sojourners in these pursuits, and that our children are our co-passengers. When you speak love, they feel love. When you speak frustration, they feel frustration. I am relearning that they are intuitive (and nosey) creatures and privy to almost every word, idle or intentional. I must make those words count.
Who’s with me?