I’ve been sloooowly slogging my way through Kristin Lavransdatter these past few weeks…okay for the past month, much longer than I anticipated taking to plumb the depths of this literary gem, so shame on me for not bowing in the face of an intellectual superior like Sigrid Undset. But more than than anything, it’s the fantastical scandanavian pronunciations that have me reading at a 6th grade level trying to sound out the Erlands and Bjorngulfs and Torgrids Ulfssons and the like. That and the raw, gripping power with which the author delivers. Oh my gosh, if I had a dollar for every time while reading this book that I’ve set it down and choked back a silent sob while looking longingly down the hall at my sleeping babies’ rooms…well I wouldn’t be sticking to a grocery budget, that’s for sure.
The tragic heroine of this epic has 8 sons. 8 sons. And her musings on motherhood and raising little men has me squeezing my little men extra tight. Especially my John Paul, my sweet little chunk-of-an-almost-2-year-old, alternately a baby and then a little boy, seemingly minute by minute.
After reading one particularly poignant passage last night where Kristin merged the memories of her grown sons toddlerhoods with the imagined progression of a dead baby’s development into a crawler and then wobbling walker, giggly and enthusiastic over everything the world – and particularly the outdoors – had to offer, it took every bit of restraint not to leap out of bed and scoop my chubby man out of his crib to squeeze him. Hard.
Her reflections on chubby baby cheeks and fat toddler thighs and dirty little hands patting mama’s face…oh, it almost brought me to tears. Even now, typing it, I’m struck with the strangest longing to go and whisk him away from his nest on the couch where he’s snuggled up beside his big brother watching Daniel Tiger ad nasuem, sucking down a sippy cup full of Emergen-C (rough week on the homestead). But I sit and write instead, hoping to capture for posterity a picture of the intensity of my love for this middle child. This sweet little person who is caught between babyhood and preschool, who is by hours a fierce backyard warrior and then a crying puddle of needs and wants. He is so sweet and so young, and yet sometimes I can see a glimpse of the little boy he is becoming before my eyes, and it is so bittersweet.
Maybe it’s the lot of all middle children, to remind their parents of where their oldest was, and to point them toward where the baby is headed. He’s such a funny little creature, caught between wanting his paci and blanket and trying to bust through the door at preschool, following his big brother to the ends of the earth.
In some ways he ceased to be a baby the moment the pink lines appeared on that stick, announcing his sister’s imminent arrival. In other ways though, he’s remained longer in sweet babyhood, vacillating between the poles of independence and neediness he sees in the sibling sandwich he fills.
I hope I never forget his fat, pink, round cheeks…his huge blue eyes blinking in confusion when he does something wrong, and dark lashes dripping tears of contrition when he gets busted. Oh John Paul, you know you’re not supposed to fish in the toilet. Don’t look so mournful.
I’ll probably finish this infernal (and quite excellent, don’t get me wrong) book sometime this week. And I’ll sigh with relief and pleasure, having conquered this medieval period of Scandinavian history. But I’ll probably look at my little men differently from here on out, watching with a mixture of impatience and painful regret as they transition from needy little lap dwellers to bold, wandering warriors seeking their fortunes in the world. One day my lap will be empty. My hands will be idle, no sippy cups to fill and no noses to wipe. No waistbands to hoist up and no tantrums to referee. I do look forward to those days. But I also see the present moments slipping through my fingers and I mourn their passing, as strange as it sounds. Even on the hardest days, and even when the hours till bedtime stretch out in the most impossible manner.
Kristin has given me a glimpse of one possible future, of an empty nest and a broken, thankful heart, and for that I’m grateful, fictional character or no.
Little boys are tiny men, after all, growing not only up but also away from their mamas.