Without having to hurry to two schools, we’ve had leisurely mornings, which is nice. And just having her near me is also nice, hearing her raspy-throated answers to the questions Dora asks in her explorations (is it just me, or does anyone else want Dora to ratchet up the difficulty a bit? I mean, come on, does a flying squirrel fly or does it swim? Really?)
There is, however, one acute disappointment in this week’s break from routine, and it’s self-created, self-imposed (as life’s greatest regrets often are). It’s um, the amount of quality, choke, time I’m NOT spending with her.
In my defense, I’d planned a trip to the National Zoo today, but she’s got a bad cough and it’s pretty cold outside – two reasons I decided not to make the day-long excursion.
Instead, she’s now watching the second segment of Dora without me, and I’m back here, sealed off, in my writing room.
One last thing in my defense, albeit the thing of Mommy angst and perhaps fighting words: Youngest Daughter is our fourth child, and she was, well, unplanned as things go. To be honest, by the time she came around, I’d had my fill of sitting at home with babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Play dates I love, but they require planning since our family doesn’t live in a subdivision with an ample supply of neighbors and cul-de-sacs chock full of tricycles and strollers.
Being at home alone with young children ain’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
I remember those early days with our twins, my earnest oohing and ahhing as we sat together on the berber carpet in the playroom, blocks in hand, and they displayed their stacking genius. I also remember that by the time they built their fifth tower, a bit of drool escaped the side of my mouth, not theirs, as my head lolled on to my shoulder, sleep a coveted thing of someone else’s ghostly past, a fleeting memory of a once over indulged childless adult.
That’s when I renewed my subscription to The Atlantic. Each month it arrived in the mail, its glossy cover glinting in the afternoon sun as I retrieved it from the mailbox, the cover photos and accompanying headlines suggesting one cerebral seduction after another. Returning to the berber carpet for our fifteenth block tower or trekking outside to the backyard, pushing my gleeful tots higher and higher on their blue Fisher Price swings, I bent back and folded the magazine’s cover so it fit into the palm of one hand, and – interspersed with the running commentary mothers make with young children –I read about rising oil prices, an unlikely seaside resort in the nation (not the state) of Georgia, and a book review about one my favorite authors by another of them.
This intellectual stimulation kept me awake. But still I craved something … the company of my peers.
And so I went back to full time work. Not long after, we welcomed Youngest Daughter – a precocious girl who—unlike her older siblings – began to talk in complete sentences at a very young age. Unable to do the job I wanted to in both places, I returned to part time teaching when she turned two. This time, though, there would be no reading highbrow articles in The Atlantic or stolen moments with my nose in a Penelope Lively novel. Not while on duty with my youngest. Articulate and verbose, she is not satisfied with the silence that periodically punctuated parental conversations with the twins. Oh, no.
Youngest Daughter plays with words the way our twins played with blocks. At my best mothering moments, I enjoy this shared love of language and we read poems, sing songs, and group words according to rhyming sounds, inventing them where it suits.
At my distracted mothering moments, I say “Uh huh” to her without a clue to what I’ve just agreed. I negotiate with her for independent thinking time. For example, after writing half of this blog, I sat on the couch with her and read aloud from her magazine, Highlights for Children, its colorful matte cover as inviting to her now as my Atlantic once was to me. As we finished a picture search, I promised to return in a few minutes.
My writing room is sort of like Superman’s phone booth. I will enter and exit numerous times this morning, going in as Clark Kent, striking madly at the computer keyboard, hoping to make sense of my muddled thoughts so I can communicate something clearly to you. Then, I will leave as Super(wom)an, my red cape billowing in the wind, each flap revealing more of my fallibility.
Hark. She knocks. And I can only say, “Hold on a minute!” for so long before two parts love, one part duty, and one part guilt make me rise from my chair, tights form-fitting my calves, thigh high boots stretching toward some ideal that I may reach only in moments but that I will continue to fly after, long after Youngest Daughter grows into her next stage, knocking at the door of my heart, needing me in new and different ways, tasking me with the most important job any of us have … that of a parent.
Like many moms, Kathy drives a mini-van full of booster seats and Disney/Pixar DVD’s. When she’s not chauffeuring her kids, ages 10 and under, to school and activities, she teaches for Prince William County Public Schools, writes fiction and poetry, and blogs about the challenges and rewards of being a mom to young children.
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