This morning I took the 3 younger kids to Mass, and it was neither our best nor worst performance to date. Zelie squirmed and screamed and needed to be escorted out a couple times, and Luke too, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.
I remembered being a younger mom with same-aged kids, but struggled to recall some of the details. Did I have to take Joey out this often? Was Evie as loud and screamy as Zelie is at 15 months? Did I sometimes make it to daily Mass when the big kids were smaller?
I’m sure I did, but there is a filmy haze of sleep deprivation and a sort of rosy glow beginning to slip over the past as I cross into my second decade of parenting.
It’s hard to grasp that amount of time – 9 years – while I bounce a different baby on my lap, correcting homework written in cursive and answering questions about life and death and Nerf ammo and digital special effects.
Weren’t you just a baby, home with me all day? Didn’t you just learn how to read? How are you old enough to ride your bike to the park? To ask questions about death?
I don’t know if it’s because I am myself the oldest child, but I’ve always had a deeply melancholic love for Joey, our firstborn. I think about his babyhood and I could weep, because it was already so long ago, but also, wasn’t it just yesterday that we could not, for any amount of bribery, get him to give up his pacifier?
I look at him now, gangling legs that, while not long, are beginning to take on the knobby proportions of a kid, no trace of baby fat remaining anywhere. His mouth is full of more gaps than teeth, and his top bunk is overflowing with Nerf artillery and chapter books.
The kid I nearly came to blows with over “Teach your Child to read in 100 easy steps” has read 3 dozen chapter books since Christmas, tearing through the “Chronicles of Narnia,” the “Indian in the Cupboard” series, and more recently, grudgingly making his way through the ancient pile of “Bobbsey Twins” volumes I dumped on his desk. Not enough action, apparently.
Last night while lying inexplicably awake at nearly midnight, I started to do some mental math and came to a startling conclusion: I’ve already spent as many years with him under our roof as there are ahead of us. Put another way, I’m exactly at the halfway mark between “it’s a boy” and “Joseph Kolbe Uebbing, class of 2028.”
And like a weirdo, I already feel sad about that.
What is it about parenthood that insists on a continual tension between near fatal levels of exhaustion and also sneaking into your children’s rooms at 11 pm to stare at them while they’re sleeping?
Having kids has been a study in grief over original sin.
I’m never more convinced that human beings were created for eternal life then when my heart is breaking over some small piece of discarded baby clothing that fell behind the washing machine.
Why should the passage of time cause any grief? And yet, that the little boy who used to fit this tiny striped t-shirt is out in the front yard, unattended and hammering nails into scraps of wood for his latest invention, it breaks my heart for some reason.
We’re all speeding towards death, in a sense. The moment your first baby is placed in your arms, you’re already preparing for the long goodbye. A decades-long process of first steps and last public displays of (willing) affection; of diapers and braces and essays and baseball games and ten thousand bedtimes, in between, some harder than others.
I don’t know what it is about this kid, but he just makes me feel all the feels. He’s breaking trail for his younger siblings, all of whom I love just as fiercely but whose existences have, thus far, not sent me into midnight fits of existential arithmetic. Maybe when the baby is in high school I’ll be an even bigger wreck!
I don’t mean to imply that I think overly much about death, either, just that the passage of time – as measured by melting deposits of baby fat giving way to lean, boyish muscle – causes a simultaneous swelling of pride and grief.
And I don’t know why I should feel grief except that death is unnatural, and separation a horror. As such, nothing motivates me to advance in the spiritual life quite like this future-focused grief over the passage of time, the peculiar agony of a mother’s heart. I am investing in a future I will not see, helping shape a character whose life only partially overlaps with my own. How magnificent.
And also, how difficult. It’s the stretching kind of love for sure, pulling at muscles that are tight and reluctant. I know this world is not my home, but my heart is still a little broken over it. And each of the short people who we share our home with have broken it open a little more. Hopefully for the purpose of being reconstructed, and rightly ordered. But man, is it tempting to hold it tightly closed.