So much of parenthood is spent worrying about our children’s educations — ensuring they meet their milestones, giving them the academic edge to get into the best schools, filling their time with activities that will teach them how to love learning. And while these things have their value, I’m starting to realize not only how much they already know, but also how much my kids teach me every day. I now have three children under four, and already they have taught me some of life’s most important lessons and shown me, in their own simple ways, how to embody the values we all strive to live by.
There comes a time in all of our lives when childhood begins to wane, and along with it the magic and belief in Santa. I remember the hollow sadness accompanying the realization that Christmas would never be the same again. I knew I’d never again look up in the sky on Christmas Eve and feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end at the possibility of seeing a sleigh dart past the stars. I knew I’d never again awaken in the middle of the night to the sounds of crinkling paper and jingle bells, my heart pounding with exhilaration and fear.
In the years that followed, Christmas became less of a whimsical affair and more of a standard family get-together. My siblings would all come back into town and we’d get to see the cousins again. We’d take bets on which unwitting guest (usually someone’s friend or date) would get sick from eating the turkey our grandma “refrigerated” on the porch and who’d get drunk first off her famous homemade eggnog. There would be brunch and movie marathons, gift cards and wish lists.
But the magic was decidedly gone. There was no rush to hop out of bed before the sunrise, no exuberant squeals at the sight of a sooty boot print by the fireplace. The cookies didn’t even taste as sweet as they once did. I accepted the void as just another one of those grown-up realities we all have to come to terms with at some point.
A few weeks ago, however, I found myself turned completely around in the car, wagging a pointed finger at my kids in the backseat with a reindeer-shit-eatin’ grin on my face, singing along with the radio, “YOU BETTER BE GOOD, FOR GOODNESS SAKE,” in that classic mom fashion that would have made my teen self cringe.
My grandmother is dying.
I was never terribly close with her — which is perhaps something worth mourning in and of itself — so I don’t feel qualified to tell her stories or presume to know what she’s going through right now. Experiencing the death of a friend or family member, however, has a way of jolting us back into our present tense and forcing us to face our own fears and beliefs on mortality. For my grandmother, her fight is almost over. It won’t ever get better, and I ache with fear and sadness wondering what must be going through her mind, knowing her short time left is slipping by.
Just before receiving the sad news of my grandmother’s current condition, I heard my almost-two-year-old crying in her crib after hearing a siren pass. I ran up to soothe her and lay her back down for her nap and then almost immediately heard my three-year-old jumping on his bed as well. I hurried over to his room, tucked him back in with an exasperated sigh, and crossed my fingers they would stay put this time. I’d had my own overdue lunch waiting for me downstairs, work to be done, a fussy infant to feed. I was tired and eager for a break from the chaos, in a kind of self-serving survival mode.
And then I got the call that things were looking bleak, that my grandmother was barely hanging on, with one foot in this world and one in the next. The thought of her laying in a bed somewhere, reflecting on her long life and preparing to step into the complete unknown, shook me to my core. Is she thinking about days like this? I wondered.
You’re not due for another two weeks, but the doctor tells me you may be coming sooner than we thought. This news left me breathless and reeling on the exam table, and not just because I’m now acutely aware of how dilated my cervix already is. Months of denial have come to a head — you are coming any day now.
I have to admit I’ve been taking this special time for granted lately. Somehow caught off-guard by how quickly the months have passed, I have spent the last few days in a rushed stupor — trying to tackle all the laundry, bleaching every non-porous surface in the house, making genuine attempts to keep abreast of all the food splatters and Cheerio dust that accumulate on the kitchen floor in case I go into labor and, God forbid, your visitors are subjected to the general squalor of our day-to-day. In truth, I feel no more prepared than before, though this is at least partly because your siblings create an equal and opposite force of destruction to match every effort I make at cleaning. I mostly feel depleted and anxious, and I’ve let those feelings drown out my gratitude and hope for what’s to come.
So here are my promises to you, our family, and myself at this bittersweet junction in our story. As the clock ticks away the moments until you arrive, I have committed to stop and savor every last drop of this pregnancy.
- I will leave the never-ending housework and freezer meals for another day, maybe even another person. Instead, I will sit among the crumbs on the floor and play with your siblings. We will fill these last few days with laughter and imagination and momentarily allow ourselves to forget about having to soon split my attention with a third child. We will wonder what your name is (your brother likes Stinkbug Fire Truck, so good luck getting through high school) and watch you dance in my belly as we race cars and build towers and rub noses.
- I will allow my hot tears to drop into their hair as I put them to bed at night, quietly mourning all that will change when you step into our lives. And then I will think about all the times you will make each other squeal in bursts of laughter and delight (likely at the expense of your personal safety or our living room décor). I will imagine the days to come when you will hold each other’s hands on your first day of school, cry when you leave each other for college, stand together on your wedding day. I will picture the mischievous looks on your faces when you first realize you can work together to outnumber me.
- I will focus less on the aches and pains, the fear of the impending labor and delivery, and the worry that that crippling sensation might actually be you trying to punch your way out of me. Instead, I will close my eyes and feel you — really FEEL you — living a whole little life inside of me. I will imagine what you look like, wonder what you are dreaming about in there and whether you know it’s my hand meeting yours on the other end of those endless tiny blows. No one else on this Earth has felt you the way I have, and this otherworldly connection only we have will come to an abrupt end before we know it. Though one day soon I’ll no longer be able to feel your kicks, I know the days will come when I will instead feel you wrap your arms around my neck and nuzzle your head into my shoulder, feel you slip your warm hand into mine to know you are safe, feel you twirl my hair in your tiny fingers as you drift off to sleep in my arms.
- Finally, I will embrace the last of these beautiful experiences unique to pregnancy , because there aren’t many times in a woman’s life when this is considered impressive and charming:
The seasons are changing in our hearts and home as we prepare your arrival, Baby. With the pressure of so much still to do before you get here, it’s been easy to forget how fleeting and extraordinary our pregnancy together has been. It’s been a privilege to carry you, and I can’t wait to look into your eyes and tell you how much I already love you.