Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Forever, in the blink of an eye

Off to preschool.

My baby started preschool yesterday. She’s been ready for a while and could have started months ago, but she is the baby, and so I waited. But with my parents (who watch my kids regularly) away for nearly a month and work piling up higher than the few hours each week I have to do it, I decided to bite the bullet of paying three preschool tuitions – and letting go of my baby just a little bit.

My oldest children are twins, and so from nearly the moment they were born, my life became incredibly, ridiculously busy. For Ella and Owen there is rarely any such thing as quiet, alone time with Mama, and there never has been. They were born together, fed together, swaddled together, learned to walk and ride bikes and ski together, started school together, and even share a bedroom. Like any siblings, and perhaps especially twins, they are alternately best friends and stalwart rivals.

With Katy things are a little different. She is in many ways the center of her brother’s and sister’s world, the doted upon little sister. And while she has older siblings to show her the ways of the world, when they are otherwise occupied, she explores that world on her own.

I worked as a small-town journalist before becoming a mom. With an always unpredictable schedule that can include late nights and early mornings, it’s not a career that lends itself well to parenthood. So I gradually delved into freelance writing. Occasional work evolved into regular copy writing gigs, articles for various publications, a few odd jobs here and there, and a book.

Two babies, especially for a new mom, were often simply too much to cart to the post office or grocery store, let alone to meetings or the office. Unless it was inevitable, I ran errands and worked when I was able to sneak in a couple of kid-free hours. By the time Katy came along two years after her brother and sister, I was as busy working as I wanted to be. When the “big kids” went off to Nana’s or Gaga’s house, Katy was placed in a baby sling and carried to meetings with me, or settled into the bouncy seat while I sat at the keyboard.

For the past two years, on the one morning each week when it is just Katy and me, we have run our weekly errands – the grocery store, the bank, the post office. She is something of a celebrity at the Food Co-op, where she smiles coyly each week and charms the staff into giving her samples of strawberries and slices of cheese.

Yesterday, I felt a bit lonely walking into the store without Katy. All the folks we normally see – Cutter in Produce, Tammy in the Deli, Carol at checkout – asked where Katy was. I finished my shopping in record time, unloaded and stored the groceries in mere minutes, and was quickly at the keyboard to work. All of that was great. But I missed my regular sidekick.

She is my last baby, and while I love how grown up and smart and increasingly self-sufficient my children, at ages 5 and 3, are becoming, I sometimes feel as if they’ll go off to kindergarten next fall and college the year after. When I was a kid, I never understood why my mom seemed so perplexed by my brothers and me growing older. It seemed to take forever to get to middle school, then high school, then college. Now I know that my forever was like a blink of the eye to Mom.

With three small children running my life, my days are more often than not maddeningly crazy. Sometimes it is frustrating, regularly stressful, but it’s also really fun – in a crazy sort of way. Even while I long for a quiet moment during the chaos, I know that it won’t last long, that these days when I am at the center of my kids’ world are brief. Sometimes when I think I just might scream, one of those little monsters comes over and hugs me hard, just for the heck or it, or calls out, “Mama? I love you.” How long will they do that? Not long enough, I think.

Yesterday my baby started preschool. She was ready. Ella and Owen are thrilled to have their little sister at their school with them, and Katy is so happy to be there. To her, it seems like it’s taken forever to get there. To me, it feels like the blink of an eye.

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