Something happened this winter that changed everything.
Junior had been sick all of January and February and March with chronic ear infections and stomach bugs. He only wanted me. He was clingy and whiny, and I felt like a Siamese twin who desperately wanted her other half surgically removed.
The high point was when I took a shower as he body slammed himself against the stall door and screamed, “Mommmmy! Mooooommmmy!” The low point was on my birthday, when I pooped with him on my lap because he wouldn't stop crying.
Happy 35th birthday indeed.
By the end of March, I was ready to see other people. Of course, you can’t divorce your child, so I did the next best thing: I took Junior hiking with my two friends and their dogs. The rocks were unsteady; I could make it look like an accident.
I’m kidding! I thought the fresh air and change of scenery would do us good.
Ten minutes into the hike things started to fall apart. Junior wanted me to pick him up. He whined. He stopped to examine every tree. My friends walked as s.l.o.w.l.y. as they could, but their dogs were pulling them. Soon they were far ahead of us.
To say I was impatient is an understatement. I told Junior to hurry up, that I was not carrying him and that he’d better M-A-R-C-H. I just wanted to hike, dammit. I wanted to do what I wanted to do. We’d almost caught up with my friends when Junior started moaning and dawdling again. I took him by the hand and pulled him along, but he still wasn’t fast enough. He was on the verge of tears. I was frustrated.
I left him and started walking.
I didn’t walk far—I’m not going to leave my kid alone in the woods, obviously—but I walked far enough ahead that he started running to catch up.
“Mommy!” he cried. “Mommy, wait!”
I turned around, and that’s when I saw him. I mean really saw him. His cheeks were bright red. His nose was running. He was scared. He looked so little. I felt like a monster. Junior had been sick for almost three months and here I was mad at him for not wanting to go on a brisk hike. Here I was ready to yell.
That’s when everything shifted.
I took a few deep breaths. I told my friends to go on without us. I knelt down and wiped Junior’s nose. I adjusted his mittens. We sat on a stone wall and ate a banana. We talked about the moss on the rocks and how the winter streams were starting to melt. We listened to the woods.
I let Junior be Junior.
When we were done with our snack, I gave him a piggy back ride down the hill. When we reached the bottom, we drew in the snow with sticks.
Was it my idea of a good time? Not exactly. After a sedentary winter, I had wanted to move my muscles. I had wanted to talk to my friends. But before I’d turned around and looked at my child and thought about what he needed from me—not what I wanted—I’d been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
Most often, I find that the moments I struggle most with parenthood are the moments I try to swim against the current; since that day, I’ve consciously been trying to have less and less of those experiences. Instead of rushing bath time because I have 20 other things on my to-do list, I make myself some cheese and crackers, grab a magazine and keep bath time off the clock. Instead of hurried grocery store trips that feature the word “don’t” a hundred times, Junior and I stop to say hi to the lobsters, and I let him help me put things into the cart.
Or I make Chuck go.
I’ve also been trying to say “no” less. Why can’t Junior pour small cups of water out of his little swimming pool onto the grass? The grass is dry as hell. It needs water. Why can’t he ride his truck down the hill? If he falls, he’s literally two inches off the ground.
I’ve looked hard at what I've been saying no to, which is the possibility of another mess to clean up or another bruise to tend to. But prevention can’t be parenting’s sole doctrine.
I’m not saying my mommying is so fragrant and purifying Massengill wants to buy the patent.
Some nights it just ain’t gonna happen. Bath time has to be 10 minutes. Junior needs to hear “don’t.” But our home feels calmer. I enjoy Junior more, and I think he enjoys me more.
So holy shit. One day before his third birthday, I think I’m actually starting to get it.
Course, everything will change when he's three, won't it?
About me: I'm 42 and added another gherkin to our pickle party of a family. My husband Chuck, our 9-year-old Junior, our 6-year-old Everett, our toddler and I live in a town in Connecticut I affectionately call Mulletville Lite (aka my childhood hometown). My friends call me Nutjob, and they're right. In my husband's spare time he dresses up as a Viking and chases ghosts (and I'm the nutjob?). When I'm not busy working as a graphic designer, I lie in a ball in the corner.