Sometimes I feel like I've been a parent forever. My memories of life before Kathleen arrived are retreating into that part of memory that is shadowy, indistinct and maybe a little dusty. In a way my life didn't really begin until I became a mother.
I have been dealing with small children for over six years now - changing diapers continually for six years, feeding someone else for six years, battling wills for six years, trying to keep people from crying for six years. As soon as one child becomes reasonably self-sufficient another one arrives to take its place in a long succession of unending needs.
On the good days, it's the joy of continuing to welcome new children to our loving family. On the bad days it's like Groundhog Day, with more poop and less Rachmaninov.
My life has always consisted of beautiful, needy, loving, infuriating, amazing small children. It feels like it will always consist of them, with no change, for the rest of my life.
But while I've been changing the diapers and cleaning food off the floor and rocking children to sleep, Kathleen has stopped being a small child.
First she started dressing herself. A little later she learned to read. Then she was able to clean up her own toys. And now in the morning after doing her chores she waves goodbye to me as she runs outside to ride her bike around the neighborhood. When did my little baby become responsible enough to be trusted outside my supervision?
The first time I let her go outside by herself, I worried the entire time. Would she be okay? What if a car hit her? What if a gardner tried to bother her? What if someone stuffed her into a sack and whisked her far away from me? Then I thought about our neighborhood - we have twenty-four hour guards and security cameras around the entire compound. If I can't let my six year-old walk alone here, where can I let her? Eventually she's going to have to go to college and I'll have to let her out of my sight then.
So most days she goes outside by herself, sometimes taking Sophia with her. Some afternoons she'll run into friends while we're out walking and when it's time for me to go inside for Edwin and Joseph's bath, she and Sophia will stay outside and play, roaming the neighborhood climbing trees and trying to coax unsuspecting cats into staying in the baby seat on Sophia's bicycle.
Recently she's been bringing some of her friends home, breezily announcing that they will be up in the playroom as everyone bolts up the stairs to despoil the just-cleaned toy room. Busy with dinner or bathing Joseph or dressing Edwin, I watch them run past and listen for any loud crashes. I know the children and I know some of their parents, but not all of them. They wave as they go by, shy of this strange woman who lives in Kathleen's house. I try and make small talk. Some talk easily of what games they've been playing, some answer in the shortest sounds possible. Mostly, however, I leave them to their playing. They have important things to do and I have a standing date with dinner.
I remember my friends' moms from my childhood. They were always there in the background, doing whatever it was that moms do to keep constantly busy. Some were nice, some were nicer, but they all mostly just left us alone to play. I didn't consider them much; they were vague shadows in the background that occasionally gave me treats. But they weren't who I had come to see, they were just a fixture of my friends' lives.
And now it has come full circle - I am now Kathleen's mom, keeping quietly in the background as I busily move around the house.
I knew that one day my children would get older. I hoped that they would have friends. I was excited to live in our neighborhood because of the readily available friends. I just never thought about the new role I'd get to play. Kathleen's mom.