T and I attended a birthday party yesterday morning, held in a park. It was hot at 10:00a.m., soon to reach triple digits. All the toddlers had red cheeks. Luckily there were shade trees so the cupcakes didn’t melt. And the kids didn’t notice—they bounced in the bouncer and played like crazy and wore their long princess dresses if they were girls. T played so hard I was sure he’d have a 3 hour nap, but unfortunately he didn’t transfer from his snooze on the car ride home, to bed. Before I could panic, my husband ordered me to have a nap. When I woke up, he and T were sitting on a sheet on the kitchen floor. They’d made a rocket out of a paper towel roll, duct tape and gold pipe cleaners. They had the paints out. Music was on the CD player. They were having fun. I stared at them, thinking, Oh yeah—this is family life—I have a family—I am a mother and a wife—oh yeah!
Even though T is almost 3 years old, this revelation still slams me.
I made pizza pinwheels and we piled in the minivan and headed for Zuma Beach for dinner, driving away from the boiling valley toward coolness. Of course T fell asleep on the way there, pinwheel in hand. He didn’t wake up until we’d spread the blanket on the sand and the breeze swooped in, sea air buffeting his gold locks, whirling around his nose, reviving him. He ran non-stop for the next 2 hours, his Dadda runnning with him as I watched from the blanket, seagulls circling our dinner. There were several falls, some crying, but mostly happy gallavanting. One canny mother had thought to bring a clear plastic container she filled to the brim with sand and seawater. Darting through the murk were sandcrabs, attracting kids like a magnet. Kids, and my son, loved sticking their hands in the water and having the crabs ricochet off their skin. Genius!
Marriage, a BABY, all seemed, for so long, simply not for me. I was close-minded and probably judgmental of people who had kids—especially if screaming was involved on a transatlantic flight. I learned about children from my sisters’ kids, true. I babysat, I watched, slack-jawed, as they grew like those little pills you stick in water, that instantly balloon into dinosaurs or flowers. But it was impossible for me to have as much empathy for parents and children as I do now. Of course it was! Still, this revelation slams me, too—and I feel a little guilty.
My empathy meter these days? It’s in danger of bursting, I have that much. It can be hard to be a baby, it can be lonely being a mother/suburban housewife/part-time poet/outings-initiator, it can be frustrating when others have misplaced their empathy meters and fail to open doors for mothers with strollers or resort to dirty looks when a child has a tantrum in the aisles of Target, but the patience and understanding I have gained, the family I am an active particpant in? My husband and I may have come to this later than is traditional, but all I can feel is, yes, yes, yes.
Home from Zuma, the toddler passed out for the night, my husband tapping away on his computer, I pour a glass of wine and fold another load of laundry—as content as though I’ve swallowed a peace pill, as awed as if I’ve just watched a rocket take off for Mars. You’ve done it now, PB, I think.You’ve gone and got yourself a life.