Bad Things

When I became a mother nine-and-a half-years ago, it was an enormous transition. Ever since that moment, I have experienced many transitions both as a mother, a woman and a daughter.

I have been through the newborn stage (thrice) the infant stage (thrice) the toddler stage (thrice), the preschool stage (will be thrice in January) and now my eldest will be entering Fourth Grade.

Many of the Touchpoints (thank you Dr. Brazelton!) I have experienced with my daughters are milestones and stages anyone can find in a book. The first smile, beginning to sit up, crawl, walk, run, jump, speak, read etc. What I am finding to be quite difficult these days is the transition of my eldest child from being a preschooler to being an extremely independent person.

My daughter’s independence has caught me off guard and, as much as I cannot believe I feel this way, injures me. I see her moving away from me more and more, seeming to need me less and less, while becoming a person in her own right. Certainly she has always been so, though now it has more finality to it, more poignancy. She relishes her time away from her family in school, playdates, parties—especially sleepovers—and camp. She loves to tell us about events where we are not present and seems to thoroughly appreciate her time without siblings or parents. It has struck me that she is truly an individual with her own life, separate from mine. I suppose this is normal and natural but something I did not expect until years from now. I am not prepared to feel so slighted, though exhilarated at the same time, seeing my daughter using the wings I have so fervently fought to give her. She is so confident in her new life as a child ready to be in the world, developing her own friendships (not ones I have cultivated for her) and writing her own script. I am not ready to feed her to the world in all it’s injustice, pain, and fear. Though I continually tell her there are “no monsters” I secretly cross my fingers behind my back for this lie. Adults know about real monsters. We know they are not scary looking, green, fanged or furry. We know they pass through the world looking like everyone else when they do horrible, unspeakable things—sometimes to children.

As adults we know so much about the world and yet, our children enter it full of hope and glory, because we work for them to experience it this way. We want to protect them and it is difficult to let them fly away, especially when they are so small. I once read that “childbirth has to hurt or you wouldn’t be able to give your baby up to the world.” I suppose I felt that years ago when my daughter was cut away and became a separate person, though truly up until this point in her life, I have been the controlling force of where she is at all times. Whom she associates with, what her life is like. To some degree that changed with preschool, though I still had a lot of control, as I was extremely involved in her school and her life. Now as I think of “the bus” whisking her away for several hours alone I feel the stab of loss. I know I will feel this again and again as a mother, the loss, and the pain, as a child changes and grows. It is bittersweet, like so many things in motherhood. Beauty, pride, love and pain all at once.

One thing I was never prepared for, as my daughter’s cord was cut so that she could be whole, was the never ceasing fear of “something bad.” I blame the media for a lot of this, but also the continual presence of the boogey man cloaked in the “I knew this woman once whose child —” We all have our fears about our children. That “something bad” will happen beyond our control to help them. We all know stories, some true, some imagined, about the death of a child, a terrible disease, an accident or some horrible tragedy a family has endured. We secretly hope these families, our friends in most cases, did something to bring on this terrible, horrible fate. We want to believe it was something concrete they did because the randomness of such things means it could happen to us, to OUR child. In one of my “ I knew this woman” stories, I had a friend whose five-month-old daughter died of cancer. When I met her, my first-born child was seven-months-old. My friend often talked about her child, the tragedy, and the diagnosis and losing battle to a true-life monster, I would listen very intently. Sad and empathetic to my friend, I hate to admit I also searched every word to try and find something that would point to why it happened. Some piece that would alleviate my fear that the monster would find my child and I would suffer this all myself.

I feel so much of motherhood is a process of holding one’s breath. Hoping we are doing everything right, knowing we are not, and wishing that all the good will outweigh (and prevent) the bad.

Every stage thus far I have been waiting for this feeling to go away. When I had a newborn I thought, “Once she passes this stage I will be able to relax a little.” Once she can talk I will relax a little, once this milestone or that, is over I won’t worry so much. Of course this is true in some ways and completely ridiculous in others. Yes I could breathe a bit easier once I passed the newborn period and felt more confident about taking care of a baby. Though I also learned with every new joy and every new stage there are new fears, new worries. Once when a friend of mine had a six-month-old and my two children were three-years-old and ten-months-old, asked me “Don’t you miss your kids being six-months-old?” “Don’t you wish they could have stayed like this forever?”

I smiled because as much as I loved that stage and truly enjoyed the baby time, each new stage, new month, new year, new age brought additional joys—and sorrows. I don’t miss any time (though I wish I had a minute-by-minute film of each child’s life so I could go back and watch every moment so that nothing would ever be forgotten or missed) of my children’s lives because (I hope) I have enjoyed all the moments and will (I hope) continue to love their lives. I suppose I just never realized each new moment is both easier and more difficult at the same time. I feel like each moment with my children slips through my fingers. Many times I want to stop time so I can savor everything and it is impossible. As mothers we are in a constant state of moment and seconds that seem to speed by hurdling us toward the teen-age years at light speed. Well, except for the hours between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Those hours seem to drag on a wee bit too long.

We are never “done” being parents and there is never a time where we feel we can let go of our children and be on our merry way. There are many moments with my own mother when I am frustrated that she does not see me the way I want her to, or does not treat me as the adult person I am. I am beginning to realize that it is probably very difficult to see your children as adult people when you have held them in your arms as infants. When you have soothed a fever, changed a million diapers (especially the poopy ones that go all the way up the neck) been at various times soaked in breast-milk or formula, covered in vomit or other bodily excretions, kissed a sweaty head, deeply inhaled “fresh-from-the-bath-baby,” it is probably one of the most impossible things to put those memories and feelings aside when this person is standing before you with their own children, stretch marks, wrinkles and grey hairs. When the pain of childbirth is impossible to recall and we long for the days when we waited for the bus, knowing it is safer than we thought.

 

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