My mom babysat Olive last night and when I came home my house was spotless. The dishwasher was quietly humming, Olive’s toys were stacked neatly in her toybox. My dining room table was clear. My bed was made.
The sweetest things are always, always the smallest things.
When I drop Olive off at school I wait by the playground fence as she lines up with her classmates. She runs back three or four times for another hug, another kiss, another “I love you”. When her class begins to slowly file inside she interrupts her excited chattering every few seconds to look back and wave, “Bye mummy!” she cries, “Bye mummy!”.
I miss writing about motherhood.
I dipped into the archives a few days ago and it’s remarkable how quickly things change, how foreign it seems to have a baby or even a toddler. My sister had a baby two weeks ago, a sweet little boy named Owen. I look at him, this impossibly small little bundle, and it’s inconceivable that the leggy five-and-a-half-year-old living in my house was ever that small, that quiet. Day-to-day life seemed so much more complicated back then. I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants, learning everything one step after I needed it, finally mastering something only to have it shift again.
When she was a baby, it was all-consuming. It had to be.
I spent most of my time trying to connect myself close enough to her emotional state that I could figure out what she was feeling as quickly as possible. I needed to become attuned to her so I’d instinctively be able to differentiate between cries for food or sleep or comfort. It was almost always one of those three things.
That is your first and most important job as a parent, isn’t it? To know your child.
These days it sometimes feels like I know her too well; the communication is almost too clear sometimes, too stark. She came home from kindergarten last week and suddenly had this sassy edge to her voice, her sentences often begin with, “You always…” or “I never …” or the eternal favourite, “It’s not fair that…”
Sometimes it stings, but it’s also funny because even with all of the difference between then and now, even with all of the growth both physical and emotional, knowing her is still my most important job. So in these moments, I look at her, this leggy, tall, sometimes-sassy five-and-a-half-year-old, and I try to figure out whether she’s crying out for food or sleep or comfort.
It’s still almost always one of those three things.
I think about writing about motherhood and I’m not sure what to write. It doesn’t feel entirely like motherhood anymore, it’s not such a one-sided exchange. It feels more like the rewarding work of forging a relationship. This makes it feel odd to write about. When we struggle, as everyone in relationships does sometimes, it feels like it would be invasive for me to write about it. It’s not just my story anymore. It’s not me writing about being a mother, it’s me writing about my relationship with my daughter.
She’s such a real person. She’s such a beautiful, kind, empathetic, silly, stubborn person. I took a photo of her last week and it was the first time I ever thought she really looked like me. It was her expression, more than anything else. I often search for hints of myself in her face, but I rarely find them. When she comes out of the bath with her hair wet against her head and her ears sticking out a little, she looks so much like her dad. Her eyes are my mom’s same light blue, her face is softly rounded like her older cousin’s.
She carries so much of me inside of her, she feels things so deeply. And I spent so long becoming connected to her, made it my job to know her so well, that it’s hard not to feel these things deeply, too.
Sometimes it seems like I spend all of my time trying to get her occupied doing one thing so I have the time to do another. Working from home means I struggle with the fact that we spend a lot of time around each other but we sometimes don’t spend much time with each other.
And I wonder, do you play with your kids? Do you like to? Because I’ll happily read books and do crafts and make puzzles and chat until the sun goes down. But ask me to play, where I have to be the guy and do the voice and act out made up scenarios and I feel like stabbing my eyes out with a fork. And every time I desperately try to weasel out of doing it, I hear this quote in my head:
and I feel terrible.
And most days it feels like I’m not really there fully for her and not really there fully for work and I’m existing in this murky, unsatisfying middle state where I’m never doing anything really well. I could always be doing more, different, better. And half of me says to be gentle with myself and the other half says I have to try to be everything because she deserves nothing less.
So I sit here and I wonder, was it really more complicated when she was younger? Or were things just more immediate? Because I don’t worry about sleep anymore but I do worry about what she’ll remember about me. I worry about what our relationship feels like from her side of things.
When the worry overcomes me completely, I try to take deep breaths and watch her sleeping face. I remind myself that my first job, my most important job, is just to know her. To know her and to love her and to give her what she needs, even when she doesn’t quite know she needs it yet.