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Everything changes

June 11, 2011

It was mid-summer, 2007 – we were walking to the neighborhood park. Col, then 2 1/2, was perched in our rattletrap stroller, while Rose, 4 months, was bandaged to my chest, cinched up in acres of fabric. The cache of supplies required to keep two small people alive until nap time bulged through the duct-taped hole in the stroller’s cargo area. Sidewalks exhaled waves of heat.

~circa 2007~

Col was busy testing some vague law of physics by grinding his sneakers against the spinning stroller wheels, while Rose was grunting and scritching around her cloth nest, raising the temperature between us about 800 degrees. I was delivering a pep-talk to myself about enjoying the moment but really was hoping to find a 6-pack tossed under the bushes, or at least some adult conversation by the swingset.

We ran into a friend and her 2 children, ages 4 and 6. They were walking to the trolley stop with nothing more than the small purse swinging off my friend’s arm. “We’re going downtown for smoothies!” the 4-year old announced. I squinted in the dazzling sunlight at the trio, who could have been Peter, Paul and Mary walking on their hands singing If I had a hammer for how exotic and fanciful they appeared.

My friend smiled at me, the empathetic grin of a mother who had trudged through the wilderness of sleep-deprivation with a diaper bag chafing against her hip. “It gets easier,” she said. “Actually, it just changes. It gets less physical, more mental.” And then she sauntered off with her ambulatory, verbal children while I hobbled down to the park, a smear of sweat blooming between Rose and me.

~Col with headless grouse, 2007~

~Er, sorry, this picture cracked me up way too much not to include it~

*** ** *** ** ***

~Angel of the grass, or maybe: where Rose got tucked away while I was gardening?~

*** ** *** ** *** ** ***

Yesterday Col and Rose, now 6 and 4, built a lego hospital and queued up a line of lego people waiting patiently for doctors to mend their broken bones. I wandered around idly wondering how to help, until I realized my help wasn’t needed. So I scrubbed the fridge and made mayonnaise while my heart sang a little tune called it’s so awesome to have children who play independently but still love to get a little butt-squeeze from Mama.

And then something in the air changed imperceptibly – a small molecule of snark landed in Rose’s eye and she leaned into the legos, knocking the whole creation down. Col was heartbroken and mad, and I was called out of my domestic smugness to mediate, to furnish the right words – the ones that would invoke instant empathy – the ones that I wish were always on the tip of my tongue, but instead, seem to be floating around the next zip-code.

Less physical, more mental, indeed.

When Rose taught herself a splashy little version of the backstroke last week, I exclaimed “Rosie, that’s amazing!” And then, whoops, remembered that praise is now out, supposedly weakening children’s internal motivations.

Col’s been appearing at my bedside in the morning, wide awake and slightly burdened with deep thoughts that perhaps rush in to fill the vacuum of his waking mind. Things like, “chicken eggs aren’t exactly meat, but they’re not exactly plants either, Mama.” This morning he wondered at 6:30 am, “you know how there’s gravity but then also there’s like this other thing that makes us not fall off Earth because it’s spinning?”

For a second I remembered that for years all that was required of me in the morning was to stick a boob in someone’s hungry little mouth.

“Centrifugal force!” I called out, relieved, because last week we had to call my dad for an explanation of why water evaporates (“it’s not true that air has a suction in it,” Col was pretty sure, “but then the water just disappears! What’s that called, revaporation?).

And there’s the trickier stuff, like when Rose told me “I don’t like him,” about the boy who spit at her last night. And I felt my heart clench a little and suggested that maybe she “liked him, just not what he did.”

And when Rose cries “it’s not fair” because Col’s hair doesn’t get all tangly or because baby starlings are bigger than their parents, the potential responses scrawl across my mind like an intimidating multiple choice test from high school. And none seem exactly right…or exactly wrong – it’s like I’m in the Zen Koans for Parents class and the correct answer is both: all of the above and none of the above.

But it’s more like the syllabus keeps changing and I’ve finally mastered pureeing baby food but we’re actually onto planetary science,  high-level sibling mediation, and the drama of girl-cliques.

I’m so grateful to be growing alongside these amazing children, I just wish someone would slip me the Cliffs Notes every now and then.

PS: This morning Col crawled in bed with me and whispered urgently, “Mama, would it be funny if there were 2 squid under the sea and a submarine came by and the squid thought it was coral?”

28 Comments leave one →
  1. ellen permalink
    June 13, 2011 8:55 am

    Great post on change. As a grandparent we are lucky to be able to go along for the ride with the kids. That was a great description of what overcomes kids sometimes “small molecule of snark” Often it is a big enough molecule to see it coming to the surface.

  2. June 13, 2011 9:21 am

    Amazing how much they change…a couple of weeks ago I watched some videos from last summer. It is amazing how much my son has changed from 2.5 to 3.5, it’s like he went from being a baby to a kid in one year. I actually started to cry….. Anyways, that photo of the headless grouse is crazy!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 13, 2011 10:26 am

      I know! I have to laugh looking back – there’s our 2 year old holding a headless grouse (shot by his Daddy with a bow and arrow). Strange, but also what passes for just another day on the homestead.

  3. June 13, 2011 9:21 am

    I had to read the bit about Col’s questioning and your memory of the days when all that was required of you on waking was the placement of a boob in the mouth aloud, to my husband. I’m not sure he could related quite so much as I do, but that’s alright. I’m still very much in the physical/all I need to do is put a boob in someone’s mouth stage of my mothering journey, but I’m already starting to see that everything definitely changes.

  4. June 13, 2011 9:36 am

    I was just thinking about blogging about this very thing – except it would be my easier, less draining version a la one child….
    It REALLY helps to have a Phd in Physics in the house. I can’t tell you how many times the answer to Cole’s question is – go ask your Dad! And FYI – Centrifugal force would spin us OFF the planet, if it weren’t for gravity…. And did you know that gravity also keeps the AIR on the planet, too!? :)
    I’ll never forget when Cole came home from preschool, about three years old, and instructed us as to what a peduncle was. We thought he made it up, then we googled it, and it turned out to be a real thing! He was right! I gave up being smart right there and then!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 13, 2011 10:23 am

      Can we have your husband’s number? :)

  5. June 13, 2011 9:36 am

    I love your kids’ minds. It’s true, we need some type of cliff note to really get through this parenting gig. I was talking with my friend once and we realized that our houses are a mess because there’s never a time when our children’s interests stay the same long enough for us to stay organized. We’re always trying new crafts or being obsessed with something new which takes up all the wall space. It’s ever changing. I do have to let you know that that crazy/beautiful thinking of younger children changes too. My daughter who’s 12.5 has a more logical mind now. It’s just as interesting and still harder to crack.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 13, 2011 10:36 am

      > “I was talking with my friend once and we realized that our houses are a mess because there’s never a time when our children’s interests stay the same long enough for us to stay organized.”

      Exactly! I knew it was the kids’ fault. :)

  6. Melissa permalink
    June 13, 2011 11:05 am

    You have no idea how much I needed to read this today–thank you!

    Less physical, more mental, indeed, and when it seems to be both is when I feel at my worst, especially when Avi wakes up at 4am, screaming because he can’t get his bedroom door open and my first (terrible) thought (because I know he is okay) is, oh, I hope Lilit doesn’t wake up!

    Beautifully written!!

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 13, 2011 11:25 am

      Melissa, when you have a baby and a big kid – it is often both! I think this is why that first year or two of being a mother to 2 children was so challenging for me. Although it was my little one who had a lot of emotional needs. I remember telling a friend at one point, “Rose is completely emotionally exhausting and Col is completely physically exhausting.” “Sounds like you’re completely exhausted,” my friend said.

  7. rose permalink
    June 13, 2011 11:47 am

    Praise that manipulates is out, I think, but praise that celebrates a new skill is definitely in. When my kids do something that they think is amazing then I feel fine echoing their enthusiasm. In fact it feels unnatural not to.

    I know this is totally not the point but I just want to humbly suggest that maybe it isn’t fair that Rose has to brush her hair. I surrendered control over my girls hair months ago and it has been a challenging, but ultimately freeing experience for us all. I have had to give up caring what people think, but I have gained the tremendous pleasure of watching my daughters experience autonomy over their bodies which I believe will have far reaching benefits as they mature.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 13, 2011 5:34 pm

      Rose, would you mind sharing more about surrendering control over your daughters’ hair? What does that mean for you and for them?

      Thanks, Rachel

  8. June 13, 2011 11:54 am

    I too love your kids’ minds!
    I think it’s centripetal force you were looking for, perhaps. I always get those confused though, and I always think centripetal force has something to do with my bike.
    I was awoken at 6:20 last Sunday by :Mama, I really like wearing cords. They go really well with all my shirts.
    Perhaps not as deep as ponderings of revaporation…I think all the time about how the out-of-the-house schooling will be a reality for my small ones, and also about how much fun we have and good stuff we do while they are still (mostly) at home; the learning is so tangential, yet applied and real, and in many ways I value it more.

  9. Kathy permalink
    June 13, 2011 12:22 pm

    And all I have is a hungry cat who can’t tell time, purring over my head, reminding me, “You’re late for school!’ I thought I would be able to sleep in while Sarah is on vacation in Texas.
    Sarah never asked, “Why?” or “Are we there yet?” Col’s and Rose’s questions are immensely humorous AND sobering and reassuring. The challenge to answer would be amazing and deeply satisfying.

    …sidewalks exhaling waves of heat… now that’s a challenge, to write words like that! your writing is so intuitive and descriptive.

    And I love the photos…. ALL of them for different reasons!

  10. mama meredith permalink
    June 13, 2011 1:23 pm

    beautiful writing and I feel what you’re going through with a 6 and an 8 year old all up in my face everyday. Mental, (and emotional!) indeed!
    Love you, Rach. Hope to see you soon!

  11. abozza permalink
    June 13, 2011 3:23 pm

    With a 10 yr, 7 yr, 5 yr and 3 month old in the house, I’m spanning the “all that’s needed of me” stages constantly. I find I have to switch gears quickly because my answer to “how’d they get the baby out of your tummy?” varies, depending on which of my brood is asking. Add to that the fact that I teach 8th grade and I never know whether I’m coming or going!

  12. June 13, 2011 5:15 pm

    Yes, yes and yep. I kept wishing for years that we could know just one other family with a child Lyra’s age or older. Couldn’t I get just a peek into what would be expected of me. Luckily, I’ve been well trained at not knowing what ‘s coming. I was the first born. And, Lyra is pretty resilient. I can correct myself if I make a little mistake. The really good thing is, Hazel came second.

  13. June 13, 2011 8:49 pm

    No, YOU are amazing, “Oh, my children were playing Lego’s so I just dashed off a batch of mayonaise, cause, y’know, I had all this egg and vinegar sitting around and nothing else to do with it.” Seriously, amazing, and yes what is with that changing syllabus? I’m right now in the quantum physics zone of: I get home from work at 5:30 p.m. and my three children have baseball games at 6:00, to which at least one of them needs to arrive half an hour early to warm up. How do we get home, change and eat dinner in less than a microsecond? Or maybe it’s one of those awful word problems–If three nights a week, Andrea leaves work at 4:30 pm, driving an average of 45 miles per hour over 13.5 miles, and it takes her three children 8.75 minutes to find their backpacks and buckle their seatbelts and they have 15 minutes in which to fish baseball uniforms out of the dirty clothes basket and eat a froze pizza, how long before Andrea has a nervous breakdown?

  14. June 13, 2011 10:46 pm

    So damn funny and true and awesome. Thanks for your brilliance, Rachel. I love it.xoxo

  15. June 14, 2011 6:59 am

    and before you know it they’re teenagers (eek!!) ha ha :)
    each moment definitely has it’s ups & downs…
    I’m with you on the clif notes…. and on fairies leaving good beer in the bushes for us.

  16. June 14, 2011 3:37 pm

    Ahh Rach! Great post. I just got back from a night in the hospital with Teo (everything’s ok), and Cedar ran up to me exclaiming:
    “Mom, I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.”
    “Oh yeah? Why?”
    “Because then I will be super duper far from the ocean where giant squids can get me. And I don’t ever want to go sailing, K?”
    “Ummm… so you’re scared of giant squids…” (because talking a kid out of his feelings is apparently also out of style :) )
    Love you!

  17. June 14, 2011 3:38 pm

    This post is so rich. I find myself thinking of little pieces of it since I read it…everything just rings rings so true. I think I am right smack in the middle of physical and mental. I am excited for less physical.

    “And none seem exactly right…or exactly wrong – it’s like I’m in the Zen Koans for Parents class and the correct answer is both: all of the above and none of the above.”

    So awesome. goodness I can relate to that.

    Also, on the no praise thing…I just can’t get into it. I opened myself to it, read a bit about it. But how can something that feel SO counter-intuitive be right? I don’t think it’s for me. I love telling Margot her “M” is perfectly drawn when she shows me and I love congratulating Ruby when she proudly mounts the rocking horse. I’d love to know more about what you think here.


  18. June 14, 2011 4:36 pm

    zen koans for parents- yes, exactly. such a great post. i think the word praise has become so heavily laden… my take on that subject is that praise intended to manipulate is out. as in, praise to motivate a kid to keep getting good grades, etc. but genuine celebration of what your kid just did…. i don’t see that in the same light at all. it does feel natural to be amazed- it’s not some contrived reward we’re using to keep them doing amazing stuff. i doubt that clarified anything but i do like to be mindful of the kiddo steering by his own internal compass, so i buy into some of that alfie kohn stuff. but i would totally have told rose her backstroke was amazing. it’s different. in fact i worry for the kids who get no props at all, for anything they do, because “praise is out” when it’s not about what’s in or out, but how we can be most genuine and most foster our kids’ emotional intelligence in the best way. i tell quinn how in awe i am, all the time, i try to throw in some specifics and tell him just exactly what i saw him do, so he knows i saw, and feels validated, and then other times i just say “good job!” because it just comes out. that, or none of the above.

  19. June 14, 2011 8:56 pm

    We’re getting ready for one foot in the mental and one foot in the physical. I have to admit, I’m glad it starts with the physical. Not sure if I could handle the mental right off the bat. Such a well-written post. Loved the opening paragraphs.

  20. June 15, 2011 7:50 am

    Ok I chuckled all the way through this. Everything you said is so spot on, Iove it. My “little” babes are now 6 and almost 9 and I have to say I have let go of A LOT. Explaining something to death or weaving in and out of the tangles of social relationships and sibling relationships doesn’t seem so hard anymore (praises be for the love of all things precious-I’m not religious btw). All this open communication stuff actually works, as does this peaceful parenting stuff. But you know what that means, when things start to get easier, it usually means “hang on tight there mama”, time for a new phase with a whole new set of challenges. Like “the body is changing” talk. Like the birds and the bees talk. Yep. It’s coming, I can feel it.

    So enjoying your blog :).
    Cheers and a wish for parenting cliff notes (that would make a good book title, eh?)

  21. June 15, 2011 10:03 pm

    I remember my best friend, whose oldest two children are quite a bit older than mine, telling me, after my eldest would literally not sleep for more than half an hour at a time as a baby, that the problems don’t go away–they just change. And I seem to remember something in there about the problems getting more challenging as the kids age. I can say with certainty that they get more heartbreaking, and the solutions often seem so much more ambiguous and simple than those for the “easy” baby and toddler problems (which really, are not easy at all.)

    • June 15, 2011 10:05 pm

      Oops–of course I did not mean “more ambiguous AND simple,” which makes no sense. I guess I meant “more ambiguous and LESS simple,” which in itself is a sign that I should probably go to sleep now…

  22. June 16, 2011 6:50 am

    I say this all the time. And some days, I really, really miss the physical…..

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