“We are children building a sand castle. We embellish it with beautiful shells, bits of driftwood, and pieces of colored glass. The castle is ours, off limits to others. We’re willing to attack if others threaten to hurt it. Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.” ~Pema Chodron
“Mom! Mom! Maaaaaahhh-ummmmmm! Come here!”
I know that Mom. Its distinct tone, volume and urgency mean one thing: Dash is doing something he shouldn’t be doing. Despite her persistence, I can tell it’s slightly less urgent than a danger call, so I walk instead of run to her bedroom. At this point, what’s another scribble on the wall or an attempt to change his own diaper. I’m practically at the “Here’s a wipe, help yourself” stage anyway.
I walk in the room and for one tiny second, I panic. Lainey’s baby book is open on the bed, several pages torn–some completely detached from the book, pictures strewn about, a baby announcement crumpled and tossed aside, an envelope, a birthday invitation, a Christmas card, a kindergarten drawing all removed from their vault and scattered on the floor, their value insignificant to a little brother whose manifesto is Explore the World, No Holds Barred!
He looks up, deer in the headlights, pauses for his famous “So what ya gonna do about this?” staredown, and then he grins–devilishly, deliciously, Dashly.
I relax. I am frustrated by the mess but not devastated by his choice of curiosity direction. I put a lot of time into that baby book, its binding stretched into an obtuse angle from all the extra pages I slipped in, especially the first two years, of every new thing she said and saw and did and amazed me with. It’s no wonder it grabbed his attention.
“Oh no no no, baby,” I gently scold as I scoop up the baby book and begin collecting its lost treasures from the floor. “That’s very special. That’s sister’s book–you have one too. We’re gentle to our special books.”
It takes me a while to patch everything back together and tape the ripped pages in place and in doing so I peruse Year One, full of letters to my daughter and documented facts that expand well beyond the provided lines of the “I am 9 Months, Watch Me Grow!” page. Looking at the microscopic handwriting that curls around the sides of pages, I can practically feel my desperation–Write fast! Write it all! Remember everything! Time is slipping!
I am 9 Months, Watch Me Grow!
You recognize where noises come from now, and you turn to look.
You point to the eyes on your stuffed animals.
A lady at Doc’s restaurant came over to talk to you last week, and when she said “Bye!” you looked right at her and said “Ba.”
You take a phone and hold it up to your ear–smart girl!
You started crawling (February 8).
You use drawer pulls to pull yourself up to a standing position.
…and it goes on. And on. And on. For one month of memories.
I flip through a few more pages to find a tooth chart with every line of “Dates Teeth First Appeared” not only filled in but–I kid you not–accurately cross-referenced with corresponding numbers on a full mouth diagram. There is an asterisk next to Tooth #13 and a follow-up note at the bottom of the page: “Daddy found this tooth and Mommy missed it. First time that’s happened.”
I have one thing to say about all of this: Holy. Shit.
Okay, so I was a bit of a mom nerd (was/am–tomato/tomahto) and apparently had a heck of a lot of time back then. But there’s more to this story, a learned experience that comes not only from having three kids and less time but from new understanding about how I want to raise my kids, how my motherhood brain ticks, how I want my motherhood brain to tick.
My emotional genealogy has the odds stacked against it: a legacy of feely feelers on both sides of my family–moms who mourned baby days gone, preachers who spun lessons from their family tales and made congregations weep from the sentimentality of it all, cryers who attribute their inherited sap gene to the family name–we’re CRY-dermans for God’s sake–and proud of it.
Understanding the joy of motherhood and having an acute awareness of how precious these baby days are came before I even had children because I watched and listened to my own mother. She still describes her reaction to a recurring dream that we are little again as palpable heartache–“When I wake up and realize it was just a dream–that those days are gone–I can barely catch my breath.”
I have seized the day and sucked the marrow out of the baby days like they’re a last supper, and somewhere along the way, I got tired of feeling like they were. Like I’d never hug my baby at 20 months and 16 days old again.
There is a difference between having an awareness that time is fleeting and having anxiety that time is fleeting, and the latter is born out of the same fear of scarcity that makes women panicky for their opportunities in life. There are only so many chances–get it because another woman will. There are only so many baby days–soak them in because you’ll never feel this happiness again. Lies, lies, fear and lies.
The truth is, time is moving just as quickly as it moved 100 years ago–as quickly as it moved for our mothers and their mothers and their mother’s mothers–60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day.
Last year, after accepting that we were done having kids, cleaning the baby clothes out of the attic and tucking Lainey’s kindergarten projects in a safe place to save forever, I challenged myself on the language I use and the terminology that folds over and over in my mind and heart when reflecting on my kids’ childhood. They’ll never be this little again. Time is fleeting. We’re done with 6-9 months clothes. Toddler days are over, soak up the preschool ones! Never, fleeting, done, over. Scarcity much? I’ve worked hard to replace these words with powerful, progressive ones in my motherhood vocabulary–growing, moving, learning, blooming–and take great pride and pleasure in the opportunity of forward movement, the gift of time and more time.
I am sentimental. I always will be. As the great Chinese philosophers said, “You can drain the sap from a young tree, but still a sapling she’ll be.” Okay, I made that up. There’s an ache in my heart though–as it probably exists in yours too–for the way I yearn to hang on to who my babies are right now. I will always take lots of pictures, keep baby books and hug my littles with a thought to my future self who’ll miss this very moment on this very day. I can understand a bit of the emptiness my mother feels when awakening from a dream and realizing we are not with her, attached to her, holding her hand and nestling into her neck where we will stay for a long but very short time before we are not there. After three kids, I know now more than ever just how quickly time and baby talk and that first pair of Stride Rites lasts. But my awareness is less desperate now. Less babyhood hoarder, more “well this is nice.” Just the other day, Brett gave a little tug on Dash’s pajamas to stretch them into prolonged wearability and noted, “Seriously, Dash was a baby for what–like, three days?” I calmly smiled, a strategy in my self therapy for accepting time. “That he was,” I replied.
I think about that Pema Chodron quote the other night as I walk with my kids on the beach. The sky is cloudless, the gulf is wild, the air is thick with the taste of salt. We walk first on the dry, softer sand where footprints last longer, but the adventure of the water calls them and they are soon skimming the sea foam with their feet, the tiny imprints of them quickly washed away by the tide.
Yet despite all our attachment, we know that the tide will inevitably come in and sweep the sand castle away. The trick is to enjoy it fully but without clinging, and when the time comes, let it dissolve back into the sea.
Each of my kids finds their rhythm and place along the shore. Lainey runs ahead, practicing her cartwheels, the silhouette of her kicking feet against ombre sky outlined by the sun’s glow. Nella switches predictably from close and protected by my side to confident bursts of exploration–right into the water, right toward the waves. “Be careful!” I shout while I worry while I smile while I beam while I trust. Dash, no doubt, heads for the rocks where he climbs and falls and climbs again.
I am wary of the current. I am watchful of their movements. I am content in this moment, on this beach, with these babies, these children, these people.
I don’t ever want to be stuck at the base of a sandcastle, so sad that it’s washing out to sea, that I don’t notice what’s happening. The tides! They move! They take that sand and push it up the coast and throw it upon new shores for new castles. I want to move with the tide. I want to swim with my children. I want to celebrate all the shores, all the castles. Over time, tides trace the outline of shores that shape continents.
I want my children to know that I love them not because I remember when their left lateral incisor came in but because I walked with them up the coast. Because I cheered for them when they moved a little quicker than my desired pace. Because I swam with them when the seas got rough.
My incentive for enjoying these beautiful days of having kids close to my side is not “Time is short” but rather “Time is forever.”
I am a sandcastle builder. I am a shore traveler. I am a mom.
I slide Lainey’s baby book, now taped and patched and full of a bit more character–as if crazy mom who documented fingernail growth wasn’t character enough–back onto the shelf next to Nella’s and Dash’s. I am thankful for the memories they hold, preserved in loose pages that fall out and get tucked back in where they belong.
As for documenting the important stuff, I’ve figured that one out too.
Dash’s Tooth Chart: