It is true when people talk about early childhood as this crazy time in your life. A time when you don’t remember if you’ve showered or remembered to drink the coffee you poured hours early. Children stand in the bathroom with you while you try to pee or if you try to lock them out, their small voices whine from outside, tiny fingers under the edge of the door trying to pry it open. As you sit with your trousers around your ankles, you ask yourself when will you ever get to use the bathroom in peace.
Time for me has continued to accelerate, speeding past Mars and the aiming into space. The teen years loom before me as my eldest is turning 11 in a week (he reminds me every day). He is tall and lanky. His face is changing, no longer the softness of a little boy, but the angles of a young man. He is still sweet to his baby sister. She is small and determined. A powerhouse of personality performing at the dinner table, ready to make her siblings laugh at her silly antics, their eyes rolling and heads shaking at her silliness.
The youngest has just turned four. Her birthday was a bittersweet day as I rejoiced that we were no longer knee-deep in nappies and bottles and baby things anymore. But it was a sad day for me, because I also knew that there wouldn’t be anymore naps, that the sweetness of her baby years were slipping away as she insists on doing things on her own, no longer wanting to hold my hand as she climbs higher and higher, or runs farther ahead.
In between, the two in the middle struggle with babyish-ness and maturity. They rush to give me hugs and kisses, whine at the unfairness of homework and chores. Number 3, Miss Piggy has been resisting walking home alone with her brothers every afternoon. Since I also collect their baby sister from Montessori, she is now old enough to take the short walk home. The boys have been doing it since last year when we moved to a school within close walking distance from the house we rent. But this is her first year in big yard. Although she was excited and wanted to walk home with her brothers the first couple of weeks of school, she found the experience less than exciting and whines every day that she’d rather walk home with me.
I see her little face. At almost 8, her face is slowly changing and loosing the soft baby roundness. I think about how her brothers, just 18 months and 3 years older, have already moved on. They enjoy walking with their mom, but they look forward to seeing their friends, chatting with each other, independent. I think that in a couple of years, she’ll be there as well and she won’t want to hold my hand everywhere we go and I think that I should cherish this moment as these moments slowly disappearing down the same hole of memories that her baby years went.
The other day, I was reading an article online by blogger Emilywrites.co.nz ranting about the trenches of motherhood. That feeling of being completely sleep deprived and overwhelmed with your sanity sleeping away as you struggle with night feeds and babies that overwhelm every moment of your life. I remember feeling like that. Angry. Upset. Resentful. I remember walking through Target with Mai in the seat and each boy dragging on either side of the shopping cart. I remember just thinking, “WHY MUST YOU HOLD ON TO THE CART!?!?”, as I tried to push the cart through the aisle with each boy resisting and adding dead weight. “BE. HELPFUL. LET. GO. JUST. WALK.” I remember telling them.
In that moment, I couldn’t imagine what their faces would be like when they would be when they were almost 11 and almost 10. Who knew that they would be responsible boys who could mind their sisters and walk home from school alone? I just wanted them to stop dragging their bodies on the cart every. single. time. I remember they wanted to do the same to the stroller. They just wanted to touch me or something on me. They were constantly clinging to the carts or strollers. Sometimes, they just clung to me or my purse strap or my sweater. I just wanted them to all stop touching me. To just be able to walk freely for a moment without dragging three small children everywhere. Literally.
Now, five or six years have passed. And those little tiny hands are gone. They don’t cling to me anymore and I can walk freely. They don’t need me to push them on swings at the playground or hold their hands to cross the road. My oldest is almost 11 and he looks like a young man. His baby face is changing every day and he looks less and less like a child. He talks about space and engines and still wants me to play video games with him, hoping that it will keep us connected and so we can talk about the same things.
When Miss Piggy was about two years old. I desperately wanted another baby. Even while she was still an infant, I knew I was missing so much. It was all moving at lightning speed. I couldn’t keep her tiny and small and I was so exhausted that I couldn’t remember to take pictures of anything. I was so angry the year that she was a baby. I remember midnight feedings and holding a bottle to her while she lay in my arms, one hand working on the laptop glowing at 1:30am as I struggled to meet a deadline. Her father lay upstairs dead to the world, and certainly to her crying. To be fair, he worked long and exhausting days as well. But I wasn’t signed up to be the default parent. I had expected everything to split down the line. But here I was, at home with three kids, three and under. I was trying desperately to keep my career alive by opening my own business and working from home, I could just manage to keep my head above water. My house was a mess. My kids were wild. I just wanted to know what happened to that girl I dreamed I would be. What was this life?
But by the time Miss Piggy was two, I knew that I wanted another baby. I wanted another chance. My last chance. The first three came so fast and they were like a cyclone that blew into my life and completely rearranged and disrupted everything I knew and everything I thought life should be. With the first baby, I still worked and my husband and I split the household chores 50/50. We still went to the movies when he was a baby and out to dinner. We would have dinner parties at friends’ houses while he slept on the bed a room away. By the time #2 arrived 17 months later, our life really started to go down the toilet. When you stay up all night with the first baby, you can sleep in and rest, advise doctors and old ladies. Well, if you have another 17-month-old toddler, you can definitely not sleep in and rest. Ever. Again. For what seems like the rest of your life. Because said older child will probably either be yelling from his crib at 5am (when the baby just has fallen asleep) or is poking you in the eye and asking for crackers at 5am because you foolishly decided to upgrade him to big boy bed so that the new baby could have his crib. Nap time is no longer for mutual naps; it’s the time to care for the other children you’ve neglected while the baby was awake.
When we had Miss Piggy, 3 years and 2 months after the Monkey and 19 months after the Puppy, I was delirious from sleep deprivation. I was fat and sluggish. I barely could stay awake and certainly couldn’t remember anything anyone said to me. I had been awoken several times every night since pregnant with the Monkey and sleeping during the day was only for those with some sort of serious illness. Sleeping would mean the children would be ON THEIR OWN for that period of time, and that was very dangerous. They could do anything and get into anything they put their little minds to.
Now, I was ready to try again. My husband was suspicious and not particularly interested in participating. He wondered why three beautiful children weren’t enough. Weren’t we just tempting fate? I was adamant. He resisted. And could barely stay awake. I investigated into his reluctance and he was really positive that he didn’t want to get up with a baby anymore. Since, I knew that he hadn’t really gotten up with baby since baby #1 (hence my slowly boiling anger for him), I promised him that if we had another baby he wouldn’t have to stay up with this baby. That I’d do it all.
But pregnancy didn’t happen for us. I can tell you that it’s because I ovulated on Wednesdays and that we could only ever manage some feeble, married, scared-to-wake-the-babies, couch sex on Saturdays. I resigned myself to three kids. Time went by and I tried to enjoy every last little bit of Miss Piggy’s baby days. I tried to enjoy it all, but it was so hard to just keep up. I felt like I was trying to run a marathon but had only prepared by taking short walks. All I did was change diapers, wash clothes, feed children, and clean up after children. And in the little moments when they were distracted by Blue’s Clues or Diego, I would sneak into the office and work.
When Miss Piggy was almost 4, I had made an appointment at my OB/GYN to have an IUD put in. I was 35 and the appointment was shortly after my birthday. I didn’t want to deal with the possible complications of being older and pregnant and had used my birthday as a sort of deadline for getting pregnant. Then, suddenly, I just had a feeling and went to Walgreens to get a pregnancy test. It was positive. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure if J was excited or wondering why we were going to do this again. My IUD appointment was switched to a pregnancy appointment.
After Miss Lulu arrived, every night, I looked at her little face. I took a break from work and forwarded all my clients to a friend. I was lucky that my three older kids were now all either in school or preschool and I had time to take naps with my youngest. I did all the things I didn’t have time for with the first three. With the Monkey, I worked full-time and when he was only 10 months old, I was already exhausted and pregnant with the Puppy. Miss Piggy came quickly after the Puppy and it was all I could do to keep up. To keep them alive and fed! I took Miss Lulu everywhere with me. The three older kids were old enough to help; the oldest was now seven. I knew every day that it might be the last…the last nap, the last time I’d wear a baby in a sling, the last time my baby would wear that outfit or those tiny shoes. I cherish every second. Messes on the table, playdoh on the floor, cheerios scattered all over the couch. I knew it would all end. Sooner than I could image. That any day might be the last day she would take a bottle or want to play with a baby toy. I looked at her tiny hands and feet every day knowing that they would be wearing size 2s in a few short years.
I knew then, that all those things those mothers told me were true, that what they were really trying to tell me was that the seasons will change. That this crazy, hectic, sleep-deprived time in my life would change into something else. And then, that would change into something else. And it all really went by so very quickly, that even though, I was stressed out and it certainly didn’t feel like it in that moment, in a couple of short years, it would all be gone. Maybe it’s something you can only come to understand while you are still in the trenches when you’ve had 3 or 4 or more kids. Because you can see the older ones moving on, while you still struggle with the day-to-day exhaustion of caring for a baby. You begin to see the patterns in your life and your children’s life as they move on quickly from one age to the other. You learn that that the other mothers aren’t trying to silence you or stop your rant. They concur with your trials. They are not sitting from a smug place of plenty of rest to remind you to be grateful. They are just trying to let you know that it will all be over before you know it, and there won’t be second chances to hold those little hands, kiss those baby feet, and smell that soft milky smell.