For a memoir possibly –
Once upon a time, I had kid size brooms, plastic garden tools and kitchenettes so I could sweep, plant and cook side by side with my children. Frequently I let the house go; dishes got done during naptime, beds were left unmade. Even if expected, I could not be tidy AND get down on the floors to play with dolls, tea sets, cars, shovels, blocks, chalk, crayons and read picture books. Just to feed and keep a baby clean is a major task. Half the time I was sleep deprived. Showering was a strategic accomplishment of grand proportions.
I remember the noise. They banged pots and pans with wooden spoons and sang along. We shrieked and laughed in delight. Their clamor deafened.
Our three chickadees were rich in curiosity. Each of them tested, ate and spit out cat food, soil and homemade play-doh. As they crawled and figured out how to surf furniture, many bumps and bruises were kissed, many squirmy, frustrated bodies coddled.
Additionally, as any parent can testify, it is not a good sign when all you hear, is quiet. Silence is often an alarm. If I didn’t hear the constant babbling, cooing, arguing, yelling or laughter, I knew they were up to mischief. Once, my son inserted a tuna sandwich into the VCR. Another time, his sister shoved sour Smarties up his nose.
Plenty of panic, sermons and time-outs ensued. But, I was a terrible enforcer of rules and they had me wrapped around their little, tiny fingers with a pleading large eyed “I love you, momma.” Or, a drawn out, high pitched “I’m so sowwry.” They mesmerized me with their adorableness and aren’t children designed biologically to have us indulge them?
Be that as it may, every adventure was fascinating, especially for me. We waded in tide pools and marveled at sea life. We swung on countless park swings. We visited zoos, petting zoos, wild animal sanctuaries, festivals, fairs, amusement parks, youth symphonies, beaches, libraries, gardens, playgrounds, toy stores, shows, lakes, museums, friends and relatives. We had picnics, bar-b-ques, play dates and pool parties. We planted, cooked and ate food together. They became my focus, my source of entertainment and my steady companions. I lived and loved the wonders of life alongside them.
When the landline rang, I secretly felt “yea!” an adult is calling me! Yet, that was their unspoken signal to mobilize around me. The chickadees were determined to obtain my undying attention. It was their chance now and tacit agreement to act up, fight or pose an urgent question. Indeed, the instant I looked elsewhere, distracted – my son choked his sister, my daughter teased her brother, the littlest one stripped (including her diapers) and the screaming, howling and racing around reassured me I was in over my head.
If I had returned to my professional career, if I had been at work, if I had tried to have it all and multi-task, I would have missed all of this. I am ever so grateful and glad I elected to remain home. We did with less. My husband worked more. I clipped coupons, cashed our coins into dollars and bought in bulk. Therefore, I raised our brood by bonding with them, essentially, from the womb onward. And, not possessing income to squander, I joined many parent groups, thereby filling my life with added offspring.
Of course, no parent has any idea what they have signed up for the day we are gifted with these little human beings. Each generation has a realm of its own and belongs to a group. Every childhood had its own toys, trends, music, games, movies, heroes and styles. I couldn’t keep up, it changed so fast. The action never stopped. It was a relentless ongoing education and job. Nevertheless, as we met the challenge of having one less paycheck, we ended up having more experiences, together.
There were times the minute my worn-out spouse dared to step over the front door threshold however, when I would pass him a kiddo like in a track relay baton race or a catch football game. I would break down and cry, “I need a time out!” With great haste lest there be a revolt from the peanut gallery or an excuse from my partner in crime, I would run to the bathroom and lock the door. I was grateful for five minutes alone with my own thoughts. Even so, they would hunt me down yelling out “Maaaaaahhhm” repeatedly with a questioning and innocent, “Where are youuuuuuuu?” tone. How dare I slip away? Sure enough, by the time I quickly reappeared, one lay atop my exhausted husband, horizontal on the couch as they both napped, the other was happily chomping or stomping on crunchy snacks on the floor. And by the third baby, with bleary eyes, I joined them.
By and large, the water element was my secret weapon. It is irresistible to sweet angels and feisty tikes. For instance, during bath time, we had baby safe toys and every hue of foamy soap. Splashing, smearing suds and bursting bubbles were all the rage in the nineteen nineties. After scrubbing them clean, I scooped the wet and slippery, infants up in fluffy, warm towels. Warm water soothes and makes cherubs drowsy. This is marvelous.
In the summer, they chased each other with a hose or ran through the sprinklers in the backyard. They swam, trod water or floated in the pool. Our sloped yard was steep enough for terrific slip and slide parties. Water is the parent’s ally as it wears and slows children down.
Minutes away from the Pacific Ocean, we would head to the sandy Balboa Pier playground. As the sea sang its bewitching siren, dozens of diving seagulls ate their lunches and refreshments. Meanwhile, we scoured the seashore for shells and dashed after wading terns. Saltwater, sun and sand burned their little candles to a serene drive home. And, I found refuge and solace in their measured sleepy breathing.
In winter, the water changed to snow in the nearby San Bernardino mountain range. We would travel up the serpentine road to Big Bear Lake at 6800 ft. and frolic in the snow and read, sleep and eat by a fire if and when we rented a family cabin.
The water component is cheerful, no matter what the weather. In heat, they splashed each other with glee (till someone cried for mercy). On rainy days, they stuck their tongues out, arms spread open wide, bodies twirling, faces bent towards the sky, awaiting the spots of drizzle. And, they splashed in puddles. In biting, icy chilliness, they sunk their bright colored, child sized boots deep into snow with a crunch and merriment (until they got stuck). And, they made snow angels and ate freshly frozen snow.
Instead of crystal candlesticks, ceramic vases and glass candy dishes, in the early years, we had every conceivable article of baby gear, stuffed creature, and toy scattered about in disarray. We baby proofed sockets, drawers and cabinets. No surface could have sharp edges, all items were hidden or raised off of surfaces. Even asleep, my ears and eyes were alert and at attention. Furthermore, every day carried an inevitable crisis, a captivating milestone to behold or wild spirited capers. I lived in the ever changing now and I suppose that’s why this point in time seemed to take place in a flash.
A case of red eyed anxiety existed between moms as we swapped potty disasters, admitted our bewilderment and asked openly for any helpful advice. From rashes to sibling squabbles to college applications, other moms were my best source of information. Trial and error also worked. We didn’t have the internet answers at our fingertips. We had to reach out.
I knew these were the days. But, childhood speeds by and I was so immersed in their whereabouts, their personalities, their studies, wishes, disappointments and lives that I became enmeshed without realizing it.
Reality hit me in the summer of 2013. My twenty-four-hour, seven days a week job as a mom was about to slow down to a virtual halt. On the one hand, I was giddy about getting the house and time back to myself. No more trips to pre-school, soccer practice or music. In fact, no more elementary, middle or high school back-to-school nights or emergency forms to fill out. On the other hand, I was about to become a retired stay-at-home mom.
As the moment quickly approached, I rejoiced and wept. Each time one of my chickadees left, it felt like unchartered territory. But when the last one left, I asked everyone, “How did this happen so suddenly?” Regardless of my surprise, our youngest, was about to leave for college.
That summer, when I ran into moms I had known, worked, driven and volunteered with since pre-school, kindergarten days, lower and upper grades, it started to unnerve me. In all those casual bumped into moments, I found reminders of the present, the past and the future as it smack dabbed me in the middle of my forehead like a snapping rubber band between the eyes. As each fledgling left, unbeknownst to me, little by little, my sense of self abandoned me until I was disoriented and bereft.
Slowly, with gradual strides, in deliberate increments and with plenty of help and hesitation, I had to untie my mommy apron. In effect, I got to grow up. As I let go, I looked at starting a new chapter. Eventually, my mellow activities have come to revolve around my long-buried interests and hobbies and I still get to have unstructured play.
Needless to say, as long as we live, we get to still guide, support, praise and encourage our adult children. But fret, miss and ache for them as well. No matter what age group they are in or what pleasure we find, our children’s welfare, safety and happiness is a top priority.
As I look back, in the thick of it, I trudged and fudged through the younger years. I had no time for reflection. But, I ponder it now and I realize it does not matter where you are in life, you can re-birth your own beginning at any time. We renew ourselves with recreational pastimes. And, it’s always time for a fresh start. We can make this moment fulfilling or awful. It’s brand new territory to wander and investigate. These too shall be the days.
I may try a new haircut, maybe shorter. I can wear pink, red or purple in my hair, slick it back, gather it into an up do or a ponytail. I can get a tattoo or just a temporary henna design. I can volunteer and teach other people’s kids how to cook or garden. I could join a repertory company, take a watercolor class or travel. I insist on taking my empty nest rescue dog with me everywhere. I can sponsor a shelter or a farm sanctuary. I may re-unite and begin again with others. My husband and I can smooch without hearing groans of “Oh, geez,” coming from embarrassed onlookers. We cruise outdoor farmers’ markets. We could pitch a tent and sell wares, crafts or art. And maybe, I will write books on many topics. A crisp perspective invigorates.
I seize this crossroad in time with as much love, originality and growth as I want my children to find for themselves, on their own. As we engage in novel pursuits, we can renew our youthful spirit. No matter what age or stage in life we are in, playing, participating in amusements with joy and re-inventing ourselves, never gets old. It is never too late to embrace passion and grow into an exuberant self.
I seek joy and adventure at every age.