We used to rise when the boys would cry, and I was sure it was the middle of the night because of the blue light leaking in around the edges of the window shades. Daylight savings happened a week earlier for us than it would have in the States, and now we rise with more light, but the park closes at 5pm. At 4:30 in the lane, the amber streetlights come on. Often the boys point out the moon before I’ve had a chance to think of dinner. The sun moves away from us and goes quiet. We wait for winter to begin in earnest, wondering if it is true that the arctic winds will blow down and wreak havoc with snow in a place that is not used to it. We must find more and more indoor activities—short days, but extremely long afternoons.
We’re in a tangle of wills. Theirs and mine.
C is my accident-prone child. His forehead has a near perma-bruise, because he looks to see if you are watching him instead of paying attention to what he is doing, then he runs into a wall, or trips and falls. He has an agile little body and likes to climb things, without any real sense of danger. He is also ferociously independent. He will run off down the lane, around the corner in the park: out of sight. He is testing my limits and his own.
Yesterday, I sat on the stone steps between the living room and the office area of the house. It is a treacherous area for them, though they adapted to it more or less fairly well. “I jump!” C said, standing on one step and looking eagerly at the floor below. I shook my head. I picked him up and said “Jump!” lifting him high into the air before planting him safely on the floor. He climbed back up and shook his head.
That’s what we do when we become parents: we jump, into an expansion of the heart and the world as breathtaking as it is terrifying, a wilderness of sleepless nights and repetitive days, emotional depletion and rapturous fulfillment. We figure out one developmental phase at last, only to find out they’ve moved onto another, more bewildering than ever.
The morning after my emergency C-section following 11 hours of labor, I woke up with something like existential terror: the responsibility. The weight of it sank into my ruined body, as if somehow during the whole getting pregnant and nine months of gestation, the enormity of what we were doing by becoming parents had not occurred to me.
The recent tantrums have their root in many things—and at least it appears that the week-long nap protest has ended–but as a catchall they come from frustration. Both of them want their growing independence and fear it, too. They push me away only to scream if they think I’ve left. C throws himself onto the floor when I deny something he wants, but later scrambles onto me like a monkey, so much like he did in the very beginning, when he seemed a tiny kitten, a hungry little animal. Now he puts his head on my shoulder, plays with my hair, and coos, “Mommy.” He holds onto me like he never wants me to let go.
The responsibility plants the scenarios in my head (the fat lips, the skinned knees, the car coming around the bend). It plays out in our daily battles: the need to civilize, to teach them to say “please” and “thank you” and learn how to wait, to know that they are not entitled to anything they demand, when to let them cry, when to pull them close. Basically not to screw them up, because you know the first three years are so important, and the American Academy of Pediatrics says no TV before two, and there’s sugar hidden everywhere and chemicals, too, and blah blah blah–all sorts of things that will make me a terrible mom if I do or do not do.
Most of all, the responsibility means I must juggle trying to protect them while letting them go, tiny step by tiny step. I would not always be sitting nearby where one wants to jump, to stop him from the fall I am worried he will suffer. Most of the limits I must set for them. Some they must discover for themselves.
So I swallowed my own fear and let C do his thing. He swung his arms with momentum.
And in the last moment, he reached for me to catch him.