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 (well, mostly), sharp little tacks who delight me but are also capable of draining my mental energy. They're all quite verbose (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 like one. 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." 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 sometimes fall into it, but it's not a good place to live. Because 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, so 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 ambushed brain has to steel itself 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 actually 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've 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 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.