I looked at my daughters today, and I wondered where the time went. That time I’d wished away. Can’t wait till she can walk; can’t wait till they can play together; can’t wait till she sleeps through the night. Can’t wait till they go to school. They’re in school, now, and the house is empty. But for me. Here. Afternoon shadows making ghosts of those little girls in little pajamas with rubber-soled feet.
I remember big events, births and birthday parties, growth charts and hospital visits, trips full of photographs. But the times that I meant to remember are gone. The way her face looked when she rode a two-wheeler for the first time. The soft stillness of their warm skin as they slept, one surrounded by thirty-four stuffed animals, the other breathing softly, thumb between six tiny teeth. The expression on my older daughter’s face when she popped a jalapeno pepper into her mouth, thinking it was a piece of chocolate. The seriousness with which my younger child played Peter Pan and fought an invisible Captain Hook with a plastic sword.
I watched my daughters leave for school this morning and felt the tug of wishing, wishing they were little again. The older one, so grown-up now, with curled hair and flared jeans. And my younger child, scooping up her backpack and lunch. There was brief exchange, a kiss on the cheek from one and a wave from another, and they were gone.
There was a time when I heard “Mommy?” at least one hundred times a day. How I’d wished for silence. Now I am the one asking questions, begging, almost, for scraps of information about their day: How was school? What made you laugh? What made you cry? Who is that boy? What is the name of the girl that pushed you on the playground? There was a time when I knew every minute of every hour of every day what was happening in their lives, and it made me tired. How I long to be tired like that again.
My children have become people, new and different people, separate and apart from me. I knew this would happen but I didn’t realize what it would feel like. I am so proud. I am so…what? Melancholy. Curious. I look at these children and don’t know any longer just what is going on inside of them as I did when they nursed at my breast or cried in frustration or needed a diaper changed. Now there’s the daughter who competes in karate and spars against boys when her mom can scarcely throw a punch. There’s the daughter who plays violin and can figure out any computer game, while I can’t carry a tune or find my way around a word processing program. They are in some ways strangers to me now. How strange.
I have had an amazing life. I have grown up with loving parents, studied what I wanted to in college, married a remarkable man. I have run a multimillion dollar business and created an entirely new market segment that I’m proud of, one that exposes little kids to great works of art. I have survived breast cancer with a strength I didn’t know I had. I have made great friends and met fascinating people. And yet the most amazing thing that I have done is to have had children. I know this is something that most women do sometime in their lives, and while it’s something that’s not unique or unusual in any way, I still view it as my most fulfilling life’s work.
So why did I wish it away? Because I was tired? Because I wanted to go out to dinner and not carry a baby seat or cut someone else’s food or hurry through my meal? Because I wanted to sleep later or longer or better?
I have time now. I can sleep all day. But I’m no longer deliciously, deliriously, satisfyingly tired.
This essay was first published in the essay collection “The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World,” edited by Therese J. Borchard, Broadway Books, 2006.