Friday, August 25, 2006

When they're older

I got to thinking about something last night, just after I settled a dispute between Anne-with-an-e and Betsy (or was it between Betsy and Ramona? Or had Ramona been annoying Anne? Ahem. You get the picture.) I was tired, and when one is tired, even the littlest irritations loom large. A few tiny disagreements suddenly feel like near-constant bickering, picking-on, finger-pointing and tattling. Oh, my, the behavior of children. I mean, it's so ... immature.

I felt a little overwhelmed (did I mention I was tired? So much depends on a good night's sleep ....) Yes, I thought, this is the stage of life at which I'm currently parked:

My children are walking, talking, reasoning (mostly), sharp little tacks who constantly delight me but are also capable of draining my mental energy. They're all quite verbose (wonderfully, exquisitely so on the good days and "Do-you-ever-stop-talking?!" on the bad) and that's what can get me. It's not a physical exhaustion, but it can feel so. It's mental fatigue: the dragging of a mind forced to think of 17 different ways to say, "Be kinder," the sluggish tongue that must -- one more time -- wrap itself around the words, "Go tell your sister you're sorry. And please don't ever do that to her again when she's in the shower." It's the ambushed brain that can't take one more joke that involves body parts or functions.

This is where we are, I thought. But when they're older ....

"Uh-oh, stop right there, missy," I told myself. "Don't start playing, 'When they're older,' because it's a lose-lose proposition."

"When they're older" is the trap that entices you to long for a different stage of life. I've sometimes fallen into it, but it's not a good place to live. Because, you see, if I live my entire life in the "When They're Older" trap, before I know it, they'll be older. And they'll be gone.

It goes something like this, looking back to infancy:

When she's older, she won't wake me up every night.

(But she also won't coo and gurgle in that delicious way. She won't linger at nursing and enclose me in her eyes, telling me I'm her reason for being.)

When she's older, I won't need to carry her everywhere and then my back won't ache all the time.

(She also won't be portable enough to be cuddled, held and snuggled no matter where we are or what we're doing. She won't fit neatly into one arm and I won't be able to scoop her up to celebrate that she just mastered skipping.)

When she's older, I won't have to listen to "Why? Why? Why?" all the time.

(She also won't have that same awed look on her face that she got when she saw her first penguin at the zoo. She won't study caterpillars and ants for extended periods and she won't be delighted by pointing out water towers, having just learned what they are. She won't have that squeaky voice that personifies "ironic" when she says "Awwwww, look at that babeeee! He's so cuuuuute!")

When she's older, I won't have to listen to body function humor.

(Well, I can just keep hoping on this one.)

When she's older, she won't pick on her sister. She'll be too mature for that.

(And she'll be too mature to sit on my lap, play hide-n-seek, wear her hair in ponytails, jump rope, get that incredible shine in her eyes when she kicks a soccer ball and she'll no longer be more delighted by my company than anyone else's in the world. She'll have discovered there are other things and other people who are important to her.)

When she's older, she won't be so moody.

(Oh, wait. That's a woman-thing. That'll continue. That's okay.)

I've always found "When They're Older" to be counter-productive. Oh, sure, it might seem to comfort me at the time (and don't get me wrong, there's a place for the "This too shall pass" philosophy) but most of the time, "When They're Older" is the opposite of comforting -- it's agitating. It forces us to live in and for the future. And when we do that, we miss so much of today. This Moment.

Rather, I must embrace that my children are just that. Children. They're going to be childish. And my sometimes-ambushed brain has to shore up to take one more joke, one more poor choice, one more tattle. I have to remind myself that bad days make it feel as if this happens all the time, but I know that it doesn't. Because on the same day there's been tattling, a poor choice and a joke that only a daddy can appreciate, there have also been cuddles and hugs and beaming looks of love. There have been discussions that run deeper than I thought a ten-year-old could handle and insights so moving that I've gotten a glimpse at the woman my daughter will become. There have been tea parties and read-alouds, girl-talk and cookies in the oven.

There has been the delight of "I'm so glad they're this age. I'm so glad for now. I'm so blessed by today. I'm so in love with this moment."

Today, I won't fall into the "When They're Older" trap. When they're older, they'll certainly be more mature.

But they won't be here.

And I'll miss them. So very, very much.

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Andrea said...

Oh how timely. I just sat down and grumbling at all of them about chores and such. In a week, my oldest moves away to college. A WEEK! *sigh*

Sure, they could do more to help out around here, but when they are all (or mostly) gone, I may have less to pick up, but it sure will be lonely. :(

Claire said...

What a great reflection! Each one of us needs to live more fully the Sacrament of each moment...

Jennifer said...

This is my first visit here and you made me cry! My daughter is only six and I'm already planning on relocating to wherever she attends college.

Liz said...

Well, mine is coming home for the weekend tonight, but I spend my weeks missing my dd and wishing I were back before the days when she was older. I even wish for the days when I sighed to myself, will she ever wean, why does she have to nurse for so long at a time..., will she ever sleep through the night. She's a wonderful daughter and I love her just where she is right now, but I sure miss that skinny little munchkin. And Karen, you made me cry too.

Ladybugs said...

I'm crying reading this!

Great post, Karen!


Karen E. said...

Thanks, all. Sorry I made you cry .... :-)

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Amen to this post, Karen!

Have a great weekend and enjoy EVERY moment!



Kristin said...

Oh, so true! Thanks for sharing ... and I love the photo of the empty bird nest. I actually have an empty bird nest (not a real one, it's from Michael's) in my kitchen to remind me of this very thing! Blessings on your each and every moment.

Donna said...

Thankyou, Karen, for the reminder.