Nobody puts baby in a corner.

Last week I flew down to Salt Lake to help my sister with baby #4:  Ava Vivian Carley.  Could you die with how cute that name is?  And if you think the name’s cute, you should see the baby.  I could die.

And as far as me “helping?”  Well, to do that, all week I would:

1.  Hold baby while watching Dirty Dancing.  (See title.  If you are a young mother having a bad day, just find Dirty Dancing on TNT.  The trashy plot and hideous acting will thrill you.  Results guaranteed.)

2.  Stop holding baby long enough to make Rocky Mountain/Peanut Butter/Chocolate Chip cookies. (They were for the kids!  Promise.)

3.  Hold baby some more.

4.  Stop holding baby long enough to take a shower, not do my hair, not put on makeup, and pull my baggy sweatpants back on.  (I tried to empathize with my sister by practicing new-mom grooming habits.  I think she appreciated it.)

5.  Hold baby some more.

6.  Stop holding baby long enough to quit reading The Forgotten Garden (no diceand start reading Olive Kitteredge (dice!)

7.  Hold baby some more.

8.  Stop holding baby long enough to let my nephew annihilate me in Dance Central.  (At least I looked good, pumping through the moves in  said sweatpants.)

9.  Hold baby some more.

10.  Stop holding baby long enough to eat massive quantities of said cookies.  (I tried to empathize with my sister by joining her in a nursing diet.  I hoped my intake of excessive calories would boost her milk supply somehow.  I think she appreciated it.)

Seriously, though:  I have such admiration for mothers with many young children.  I have friends with five or six small  kids, and I honestly don’t know how they do it.  Wait, I do know how.  They work.  Hard.  All day, every day.  Especially when the children are young, which is the phase of life my sister’s in now.  She is managing a nine-, seven-, and three-year old while up all night with a newborn.  She’s settling fights between the nine- and seven- year old and trying to be patient as the three-year old climbs all over her bed, refusing to let her mom take a nap with the baby (even though the three-year old’s cool Aunt Jen is in the living room, begging to play with her.  Do you hear me, Allie?  I’m still kind of mad at you.)  My sister manages it all so well–and on so little sleep–but it’s still hard.  In fact, since I’ve been home she’s called me a few times near tears, confessing how hard it has been.  (My Type-A sister finds few things hard, so these phone calls please me immensely.  Um, I mean:  I feel so bad for her!  She is amazing!  Are you reading this, Jaimy?  Crap.)

Being around this blooming young family was like stepping right back into the past.  Jumping out of my world into theirs reminded me how long that chapter of motherhood has been closed for me, and it was surreal–in a happy way.  I found myself nostalgic about the slow quiet days, now long gone, that I used to share with my little ones.  But then I also found myself thankful that I was given the chance to savor such days at all.  And after seeing how hard my sister was working, I discovered gratitude for the fact that those “tender years” don’t last forever.  As mothers, we often claim that we want to capture time with our children, to make it stand still.  But do we really?  What if we could?  It would prove a curse.  Instead, we are allowed to transcend that unique piece of time–and the toil that accompanies it–and remember only the good stuff.  That’s a gift.

During my stay, I spent one long, quiet afternoon with my little niece at the library.  I sat flipping through People–um, I mean, Time–as Allie pulled princess board books off the shelves and stacked them in a basket on the floor, one by one by one, for hours. Because I was out of town, I had nothing to do and nowhere to be.  I wasn’t glancing at my phone or the clock, thinking about the next music lesson or carpool I needed to attend to.  For the first time in a long time, I had only two things to think about:  1)  how was I going to keep this toddler entertained for two more hours until dinnertime? and 2)  was Demi’s breakdown a result, or the cause of,  Ashton’s indifference?  (Despite the promises on its cover, People didn’t really make that clear.)

I mulled over these thoughts as the winter sun spilled through the large library windows onto my cushy chair, which sat in an especially warm patch of light.  I closed the magazine and my eyes for a moment, enjoying the pleasant hum of mothers reading quietly to their kids or chatting conspiratorially with friends.  The muffled whispers took me back to a time when I used to meet friends at the library–or the park, or McDonald’s–on a weekday and we would sit and talk for hours, always under the guise of “entertaining the kids.”  The kids?  Ha.  Those outings were for me.  And I dearly miss them.  Funny how  young motherhood, with it’s relentless physical demands, actually affords us the most time–in our adult lives, anyway–to spend with friends.  When kids are little, we take them places and watch them play.  That is good for the child, and is a mother’s time well spent; visiting with another mother during that time is simply multi-tasking.  Once kids are in school, taking three hours to sit and talk with a friend feels decadent, if not lazy.  Mothers quickly fill up those newfound free hours with a myriad of endeavors they couldn’t attempt when their kids were little.  Things to do, places to be!  No time to sit and chew the fat.  When kids are older, mothers don’t sit by the park; they live in the car.  Which means mothers likely spend more time with Dr. Laura than with their best girlfriends.  (A poor trade, if you ask me.)

Yes, I do miss the camaraderie of young motherhood.  And the fierce loyalty my children showed me, daily, when they were toddlers.  And the slower pace of it all.  And the way my 18-month old daughter’s hair used to grow fine and straight on the top of her head but in long, loopy curls out the sides, making her look something like Bozo the Clown.  The parallel masses of curls would flap back and forth, back and forth in the breeze as I walked with her perched on my hip.  Do I ever miss that.

But I don’t miss the sleep deprivation.  Or the tantrums.  Or the diapers and carseats, the nursing and negotiating.  Lots to love about young motherhood; lots to love about leaving it behind.  Those early, hazy years really are golden.  But the later years are platinum, because you can leave your own kids home with their father, swoop into town as the Beloved Helpful Aunt, feel all the love, then fly home to sleep for eight uninterrupted hours, night after night, in your blissfully kid-free bed.

The early years of parenting are precious, but getting through them isn’t such a bad thing either.  Hang in there, young moms.  There’s a lot of good times–and tons of sleep–waiting for you just around the corner.

The corner which, according to Johnny, nobody puts baby in. (Does anybody get that line?  I’ve never really gotten it.  But it’s dashing, coming from a breathless Patrick Swayze.  Oh my.)


Allie, Kyle, Chase, Baby Ava.

Oh my.

Throwing a birthday party for your seven-year old boy is kind of like being on the Stairmaster.

Your legs are pumping and your teeth are clenched as sweat trickles down the side of your face.  You push, you pant–you groan and cry–but you know you just have to get through it.  You try not to look at the clock too often; that only stretches the agony.  After the first painful minutes you start playing games in your head, using mental trickery to distract yourself from the long slow burn:  Replaying old Seinfeld episodes in your mind, ticking off what you’ll buy for the master bedroom once you “have the money,” revisiting Christmas dinner with your in-laws–only this time you say what you really should have said then.  (Unlike the rest of your time spent on the Stairmaster/party, this last bit feels really good.)  

It seems it will never end.  Your body is working so hard, moving so fast, throwing all of its strength into the grueling demands now placed on it, and yet:  it does not end.  Like the cruelly indifferent Stairmaster, the birthday party will not reward your effort, only your time.  Greater exertion on your part will do nothing to shorten the duration of your penance.  That invitation you sent out last week (back when you were an idiot) specifically told parents to come pick up their children at five ‘o clock.  Regardless of how hard they pretend to ” just love kids!” not one parent will arrive a single minute prior to five ‘o clock.  Guaranteed.  I mean, would you?  (You would not.  You have not.  You know this, and so does everyone else.  It’s payback time.)  Whether you grind it out or laze it away, five ‘o clock will not arrive until, well, five ‘o clock.

But grind it out you do–you direct and serve and play, and you do it all with a smile.  Doing so won’t shorten the ordeal, but it will make it worthwhile.  You step on the Stairmaster to make something intense happen, and you plan a party for your first-grade boy with the same objective in mind.  Intensity hurts, but it beats complacency.  And if complacency is unfortunate on a Stairmaster, it is unforgiveable at a little boys’ birthday party.  Which is why you:

  • Doused the living room and kitchen with enough Cars 2 paraphenelia to make Finn McMissile mcbristle. (Sorry.)
  • Employed your ultra-talented, ultra-busy sister to slave over yet another showstopping cake for your child and then thanked her by eating a large piece yourself (you don’t want to be rude.)
  • Oversaw a treasure hunt to find “Axelrod,” a competitive game of Pin the Gun on Finn McMissile, and violently sporadic breakouts of Werewolf Tag (whatever that is–the chase started when the first boy walked through the front door and each boy who arrived joined in immediately.  They were still playing when their parents picked them up.)
  • Oversaw your husband–your darling, virtuous, loyal and faithful husband–lead the boys to the park next door for the last fifteen minutes of the party.  Imagine how it would feel to have someone unplug the Stairmaster fifteen minutes early but tell you that you would still burn as many calories as if you’d pumped the entire time.  Just imagine it.  Awesome.

And just as with the Stairmaster, when the infinite stretch of time has finally elapsed and you are able to shout out “done!”, you disembark, look around you, and feel like a million bucks. You did it.  It was kind of horrible and kind of fun and now it’s over and you did it. 

But unlike crawling back on the Stairmaster tomorrow morning, you will not throw a birthday party for your seven-year old boy for another year.  And when you do, he’ll be an eight-year old boy, and that will be a whole different post.  Probably one of the long, sad, sappy ones.  But for now, he’s still just seven, and you can laugh at how ridiculously hyper and loud and adorable he is.  And you can wish him a big happy birthday and feel good about that chocolate cake you ate because you know you burned all of those calories (and then some) with the sheer effort it took to pull this whole thing off.  And then you wonder: who needs a Stairmaster when you’ve got a little boy?