Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Letting Go

I’ve just registered my second child, my lovely little girl, to start pre-K in September. When she goes, our entire world will change, much as it did when my son, now in first grade, went off to school. Though we have (many) challenging periods, I often find myself on the verge of tears at the thought of my babies growing up, and so quickly.

I sometimes struggle to remember my son’s infant days. From the moment I saw him everything about my life was different, and I am a better human being as a result. But sadly, even before he was born, I had already begun letting go. It started with my pregnancy, which I gave over to tests and results and being poked and prodded by strangers with cold hands. It continued with my labor and delivery, which I gave over to lawsuit-fearing doctors and students, and pitocin and magnesium.

I spent my son's whole first year in this state of letting go. I have difficulty explaining it, but everything I did, from formula feeding to using swings and jumperoos to the car seat cradle my son spent an inordinate amount of time in, served to take me further and further away from my baby.

So many times I have wondered, now as a breastfeeding, baby wearing and attached parent, how much easier my son's first year would have been for both of us had I just breastfed him, or worn him, or read his cues a little bit better. So many times nursing calmed my daughter and I remembered being in similar situations with my son, where no amount of holding or rocking or binky or anything helped him the way nursing would have. So many times I have wondered how many painful, raw diaper rashes we could have avoided with my son if only we had cloth diapered him.

Now that my children are growing, I really understand how short this period of time is, how little precious time we get to truly be with our children. And so much is becoming clear. I always had such a hard time reconciling my feelings for my son with what I was actually doing. The need to attach was always present in me, but I didn't listen to it. I took the mainstream advice, the road everyone I knew at the time was taking, and it did not serve us well.

There's a small amount of time that we have as parents to start things off the better way, and give our babies the tools to deal with life and its ups and downs, with grace, humility, and love. I do my best to give my children those tools, as we all do—but I wish I had more time to make up for what I lost during my son's first year. I wonder if any of the battles we are having now would be different if that first year would have been different.

I’ve had no choice but to move on. I've had to mourn the time we lost, and move on to what we can do now. I am trying to fill each day with experiences and events that I hope my kids will remember forever. And yet, no matter what I do, how many pictures I take, or how many pages I scrapbook, I feel the days go by, the time slipping through my fingers with an almost cruel finality.

Perhaps because I am feeling this loss of time, both past and present, so profoundly, I wish I could tell the newer parents, the ones that can’t wait for their kids to learn to talk, to be potty trained, to go to school—all exciting and wonderful milestones; if only they didn’t come so quickly—how fleeting these first few years are. Should I tell them that each time that one of my children acquires a skill or learns something new, as excited as I am, my heart breaks a little? Sometimes I wish that I could magically extend my arms to reach around my son and daughter forever—so that they be protected and loved in my embrace no matter where they go. I’m trying desperately to hold on to this period of time when I am still attached to them somehow.

For me, attachment is about being close to your child. It's about teaching, about guiding, and about compassion. I’ve found that attachment doesn't have to be all or nothing. Ultimately, it’s not about how long you baby wear or breastfeed or co-sleep.

I bristle at the idea out there that in order to be an attached mom, you have to come last. Not true. I am not harried, nor have I left myself on the back burner—in fact, I take great care of myself. It took some time, but making myself a priority has been the best thing I could have done, and it allows me to be even more attached to my children and more attuned to their needs, because my needs are being met.

I also think we have to be realistic about expectations and just how joyful attachment and parenting in general are “supposed” to be. I’ve always had the most difficulty remaining attached to my children when I feel that whatever is happening in the moment is falling short of my expectations. When I let go and relax, things turn out alright for the most part.

I read Glennon Melton’s “Don’t Carpe Diem” a couple of months ago, and though a lot of it resonated with me, it also served as a reminder that I want to strive to be more positive during my day-to-day grind. In general, I want to be able to take the difficulties in stride, and recognize that most things are just a phase. I’ve talked before about my temper and the difficulties it presents for me, and I find it easiest to control myself when I keep things in perspective. I've made a point, in the last six months, to decrease outside stress and noise and focus on myself and my family, and it's made a huge difference for me.

The only thing that remains constant in life is that time always passes. My husband will eventually come home, my kids will eventually go to bed, and I will eventually get through the day, no matter what happened or how frustrated I got. As tough as things can get with small children, I don’t ever wish that we were anywhere instead of being right where we are now—together, appreciating and loving being together. Again, all that takes time, and it is the gradual realization of all these little things that helps during the bad moments.

Sure, there are unglamorous things involved—leaking nipples, boogers, butt-wiping, and the like. Honestly, for me, those things are par for the course. It makes me sad to hear moms lamenting about what important jobs they had in the corporate world before children, and the current feeling of having been reduced to nothing but a heinie-wiper. I wish we didn’t find this type of work, the work of mothering, to be so demeaning. There’s nothing demeaning or shameful about raising another human being. And well, yes, these little beings are going to need their nails clipped, their snots wiped, and you will have to get down on your hands and knees more than once to clean up the mess they’ve made on the floor.

When the day seems never ending and my frustration has reached its peak, I’ve started to give myself a pep talk. “Hug your babies and keep them close. Time is fleeting. Savor it, cherish it. Appreciate the challenges as much as the joys. This precious time will be gone before you know it.”

And then I’m off to wipe someone’s heinie.


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