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 dice) and 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.