The Perils of Having Children

This morning 6AM found me awake and in bed with both girls, and one of the cats. It was barely light out, but Greg was already out of the house getting some exercise. I definitely could have slept longer but Vera woke promptly at 6 to jump in bed with me and Jules. I tried to close my eyes and keep sleeping anyway but the cat was purring on my head, Juliette was pulling on my shirt and Veronica was jumping up and down making funny faces for her sister. A pretty typical Monday morning in my house.

In the midst of all of it I suddenly flashed back to six years ago, to the brief year in which I lived alone in Venice. Memories of going to bed alone in my little apartment flickered through my mind like a movie reel: me locking the door at night, brushing my teeth and climbing into bed all alone. And then waking up alone, stretching beneath the sheets and pushing my way out of bed on my terms, speaking to no one except the cats as I washed my face, made coffee, opened the deck doors to the morning sunshine.

Sometimes all of it was a little lonely, but mostly it was peaceful.

The thing that I do know is that I could have ever anticipated that just a few short years later my life would be so full. That my bed would be crowded with little girls and cats and a husband, that my heart would be constantly on the verge of drowning in so much love. It actually scares me to think about how quickly things change. Yesterday I was sorting baby clothes, putting away all of the little outfits that Juliette has outgrown already, and doing so with a lump in my throat, knowing that we’re already edging past babyhood, that we’re not going to do this again. We’ve decided that we’re done having kids, a decision I feel good about, but yesterday folding those clothes I felt sad and nostaligic.

These girls are going to grow up so quickly. They’ll be pushing away from us before we know it and it’s going to break my heart a million times over. Yesterday I remembered a moment standing in my college dorm room with my mother. I watched her surveying the room, my clothes hanging in the closet, my little bunk bed all made up for my first night as a college student. My baby, she whispered, and I rolled my eyes.

But now I understand her emotion so well that it brings tears to my eyes.

There’s that over-used saying floating around out there about how having children is like wearing your heart on the outside of your body, and it’s true. Last night I put the girls to bed, Jules asleep in my arms as I read to Vera, and then Vera falling asleep holding her sister’s hand, and then me there in bed with both of them asleep on me, and it felt like I could literally look down and see my heart, my big, full, beating heart, no longer safely inside of me, but right there on my lap wearing Dora pajamas. Motherhood is easily the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced, forking my entire existence over in this way, all of it now tied to these girls and their well-being.

I just didn’t know it would be like this. As a well-loved child you grow up so carelessly, none of us quite having any idea what our parents have done for us, how much they’ve given up and sacrificed and how vulnerable they’ve made themselves, until we become parents ourselves and do the same. I see it in the ease and bravado with which Veronica walks through this world. I know that can only come from all the love and attention we pour into her. It’s both amazing and heartbreaking to witness.

In my head, when I return to that moment in my college dorm room with my mother, I wish so much that I had gone to her and hugged her, that I’d let her pull me close and feel, for just a moment, that I was still her baby.

But I didn’t. I rolled my eyes, impatient to get on with my new and exciting life.

Just as Veronica and Juliette will do with me one day.

And then I’ll watch them walk out some door, my whole heart going with them.

And I’ll know, even then, that this is exactly what life is about.

 

6 comments

6 Comments

  • Lori Williams
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Many tears Claire – both happy and sad. I miss the baby years so much. The part about the college dorm room brought back lots of memories, of me and my mom and then me and my girls. I didn’t think I would live through the pain of walking away while they smiled, waved, said they would be fine, not to worry and had looks of pure excitement of what was ahead. Now, just a few years later, I still treasure every single minute I can spend with them and hate when its time to say goodbye. I don’t think that will ever change no matter how old they get or how far away. Thank you for sharing and sparking memories!

  • Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    Lovely post; hadn’t heard the mother’s heart outside her body. My son is 42, and yet that is so true.

  • Posted November 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    You are AMAZING, as usual…:)

  • Posted November 7, 2012 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    I was living in Sydney when my daughter Alice was 1 year old. My wife found work, I could not so I was primary carer. I would go to huge shopping malls and linger a while. Alice would totter off and explore while I watched amazed at her confidence and boldness. She would approach, charm and interact with people some of whom would look around a little anxiously scanning for a responsible adult. I would look away to see how things panned out.
    Alice never looked behind her. She knew I would magically turn up when needed.
    The proudest moments of parenthood are when your kids take you for granted, without thought or thanks, and go boldly out there knowing they have your support.
    I can vividly picture your college dorm room scene. I have been there twice having humped boxes and bags up the stairs. Being a bloke, I missed out on the “my baby” bit, and said “I’ll be off then” instead.
    I hope I sent my girls off knowing they never had to look behind.

  • Regina
    Posted November 8, 2012 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Your pieces bring tears to my eyes every single time.

  • beth davis
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    YES YES YES!!! Soooo right on. Our oldest is 22 and YES, I have had all of these emotions. I love your words. LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU!

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