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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

End of An Era (Again)

Last Saturday I was woken by Joseph's shrieks, an unfortunately regular event on weekends.  Brandon shambled out to break up the fight between the boys and flopped back into bed when he was done.  I rolled over and wiped the sleep out of my eyes.  "Do you want me to get Eleanor?" Brandon yawned into his pillow as he tried to go back to sleep.

For the past nine months our Saturdays have always begun this way.  Sometimes Joseph wakes us up, sometimes Eleanor, sometimes nobody.  But the next step is always fetching Eleanor.  She and I are equally delighted to see each other - Eleanor to eat and me to feed her.  While I feed Eleanor, Brandon and I will chat or try to fall back asleep or plan the day.  Then we cuddle in bed with the baby and ignore the rest of the children.  For a few minutes we are just three - two adoring parents and one adorable baby.  Brandon plays patty-cake with Eleanor who never tires of having her chubby little hands clapped together.  I blow raspberries on her fat belly as she wriggles in delight.  We both coo at her as she shrieks and waves her short arms about.  Inevitably, however, the moment ends when the fights break out in earnest or somebody has to use the bathroom or our conscience gets the better or us and we release the other children, beginning the circus again.

But last Saturday was different.  "Nope," I replied as quietly as possible, pretending to myself that I could fall back asleep too, "I'm down to one feeding a day.  Let's shower.  Then I'll get her a bottle for her."  And I rolled over and shut my eyes.  Nobody was fooled and we crawled out of bed five minutes later after another fight broke out between Edwin and Joseph.

I've never been too fond of nursing babies.  I've always nursed my babies for about nine months, but mostly for economic reasons.  Formula is expensive.  Nursing is cheap.  It's also sometimes more convenient, and all of those people keep telling me that formula feeding will turn my baby into a sociopathic killer.  So there's that, too.

By the time I make it to nine months I'm quite ready to retire my role as resident milk cow and hand it over to the formula companies.  I figure that the baby was nursed for seventy-five percent of their first year, so they'll only be twenty-five percent sociopathic killer.  That's much better than one hundred percent.  I put away all of my nursing-associated paraphernalia and dance a little jig of happiness brought on by shirts that don't get stretched out, bras that don't have industrial rubber-band straps, and dresses that have side-zips.  I try not to remember that their retirement is only temporary.

This time, however, I've almost regretted having to wean Eleanor.  My youngest brother is getting married in March, and I'll be gone for a week.  Eleanor will be ten months old when I leave so weaning makes sense.  But I've wondered occasionally if I would have kept on going otherwise.  I spend most of my time interacting with the other children and I don't get nearly as much time with Eleanor as I'd like.  Nursing was ten minutes I got to spend holding her as her chubby hands carefully crawled across my face or gently tangled themselves in my hair.  Every night before going to bed, Brandon would play with Eleanor after her feeding, often the only time he got to play with her all day.  Even after the roughest of days, Eleanor never failed to cheer up her angry or tired or stressed father.  It's pretty hard to stay grumpy while playing patty-cake with a chubby little buck-toothed baby.

In the end, of course, I have to wean her at some point.  And maybe I wouldn't be so wistful if I didn't have a firm deadline.  But I am wistful.  I never knew that having multiple children would change me so much.  As I go through each stage again and again and again and again and again, the irritations and inconveniences fade into the background.  They never go away, but repetition mutes them some.  And as I recognize what is not the child, but part of 'that stage' and will eventually go away - one day Joseph will stop wanting to be fed every. single. meal - I can more clearly see the love-able parts of each child.

If I just had one or two children, I don't think I could have ever have learned to enjoy nursing or dressing or reading stories or going to the park or tickling my children.  Rearing small children would have been a short enough period of my life that I would be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and do everything possible to get it over with.

But now I'm stuck in the eternal Groundhog Day slog of small children.  I've been living the same stages over and over and over again for more than eight years and it's turned into a rhythm.  Little baby - big baby - walking baby - talking baby - potty training - self-dressing, repeat.  Sometimes we don't make it to the end before the repeat happens.

But hidden in the repeat is magic.  Each repeat is the same and each repeat is different just as each child is the same and each child is different.  Eleanor has the cutest little baby smile I've ever seen - and so did Joseph and Edwin and Sophia and Kathleen.  But nobody's had gappy buck teeth like Eleanor.  Joseph drives me crazy some days- and so did Edwin and Sophia and Kathleen at this age.  But none of them had Joseph's particular cheeky smile that melts my heart just as I'm ready to commit some real violence on him.

As I become more familiar with the difficulties and how to handle them I have more time to appreciate my favorite parts.  I don't have to worry that Eleanor will never learn to sleep or crawl or sit up because I've learned that every normal child learns to do these things; some take longer than others, but they all get it done.  Instead I can just enjoy the pleasures of each stage and look forward to the pleasures of the next one.  I wonder how I will handle not having an adorable two year-old but I know that my adorable two year-old will turn into a cheeky three year-old who is potty trained.  And I know that my cuddly six month-old will turn into a crawling nine month-old who can entertain herself.  Every stage has its frustrations but every stage has its special joys.

I'm grateful for this lesson.  Everyone learn things differently because we are all different people.  But I have been taught by the experiences I have had.  I've gained more patience and love and understanding and appreciation for what joy children can bring to my life.  I know have plenty more to learn on these lessons, but I'm happy that my learning has finally started - even if it takes a lot of personal inconvenience and rough days to teach me the lessons.  I'm sure others can learn these things on their own, but it seems that I need someone else to teach them to me.  And who wouldn't trade some of their freedom and personal time for the ability to find joy in every part of life?

One day I will wean my last baby.  And I will be sad.  And I will be happy.  It truly will be the end, not just a pause, of that part of my life.  I will give away my pump and baby bathtub and nursing pillow and never return.  I will never cuddle my little baby close to me and just sit for ten or twenty minutes.  My babies will grow up and lose their dependence on me, growing more independent with each new skill.  One day they will be ready for total independence and leave my home forever, only coming back for visits.  Eventually they will bring their new spouse and their own family, the family that absorbs their whole life and love and time.  I will be just a leftover fragment, an earliest memory of love and comfort.  But of everyone in their whole life, I will have known them longest.  And I will always be able to remember holding such a grown up, responsible, talented person when they were oh so tiny.  No matter where they end up, they will have always started in my arms.

1 comment:

Just US said...

I LOVE it! You do such a great way of capturing emotions and putting them together with words.