(…and I don’t mean in super hero terms)
I once read an article about the life of a suffering woman and her young daughter in an impoverished country. The family had dirty water and barely enough to eat. The reporter have the daughter a piece of chocolate and then captured a poignant moment as the mother wiped an errant crumb from her daughter’s lip and put it in her own mouth. The take-away message emphasized the hardship the mother was facing, the difficulty of her life.
Did the reporter not realize that as mothers our children are, for many years, extensions of ourselves?
The chocolate crumb (which was something the daughter was lucky to even lay eyes on. If it was between me and my daughter and only one of us could have the chocolate, it would be no contest. I would win the crumb. She’s only four and I’m much bigger than she is.) on her daughter’s lip was really in that moment a crumb on the mother’s lip.
It is not until later when they no longer need our help, when they no longer need us to interpret their babble for strangers (and sometimes their own fathers), when they can tell us the sum of 135 and 24 that we become aware of their separateness. Or rather they become aware and we accept it, knowing it is an essential part of their development (thank you, Mr. Maslow).
But as they distinguish themselves from us, don’t we miss it — those un-self-conscious moments when they twirl our hair to comfort themselves, or when we can still carry them on a hip and we must reposition their hand because it rests on our breast? Our bodies were their bodies, at least for a time, and while we wanted a break (“Could everyone stop touching me for three minutes!?!”) from the demands on our bodies (while nursing how many times did you feel bovincial? — and is that a real word?), when we discover it has happened, it is a bittersweet moment. And if we did not physically birth the child, as is the case with so many mothers with the divine calling to adopt, there is still a physical shift, an invisible tether that leashed us to that child when we first held her, whether it be instant or by inches. Maybe that’s why certain people have lots of babies and huge families? because that dependant, needy phase can vanish just as you realize it is only a phase?
This connection is what those grannies must refer to when they tell the disheveled, sleep-deprived mother to savor the infant stage, toddler stage, cranky three-year-old stage, because “they grow up so fast.”
At that moment all we hope is that they WILL grow up fast.
But we can’t arrest time at a certain month or year. What the grannies mean is that after only a few looooong-feeling years, those dependent years will be ones we long for. Like an amputee feels a phantom limb, we will absent-mindedly do the baby bounce when we stand in line behind a fussy baby, or hurry to dig through our purse for a distraction in church when an impatient toddler squirms in the pew in front of us. Or quick snatch a piece of chocolate out of a preschooler’s hand, because, of course, that’s not a healthy choice…for a preschooler.
But maybe the grannies are right and we do need to be present and appreciative in the years when we feel like we’re under water in a sea of diapers, baby food, naps and very very short grumpy people. After a few more years they may still be grumpy, but they’ll no longer be short.