My brother Denis has a great line: "you can't hold what's not in your hand." He uses this to refer to flatulence. Ever the gentleman. And it's been this thought that's come back to me again and again while changing poopy diapers (which I'm definitely holding in my hands) (I mean, not right now, but...), or while the kids are laughing about farting at the dinner table, or when Audrey is using farts as a means to insult someone.
me: Audrey, please pick up that book you just threw and put it on the bookshelf.
Audrey: Ok, poopy.
me: Audrey, that's not nice. Please pick up the book and choose different words when talking to people, especially me.
Audrey: Ok, tooty.
Uproarious laughter follows each of these name-calling episodes.
We read a book recently where a villainous character called her sidekick/minion "Fatso". Asmarter, quicker parent might have chosen to not read that word aloud. I read the word outloud, and it has become part of Audrey's vocabulary. She got in trouble the other day for calling me and Sean "Fatso" over and over again (which, of course, Sean thought was funny, but he kept trying to make himself NOT laugh, because he knew I would get mad), so she was eventually sent to time out. In her room. Then across the house, I heard,
At first I ignored it. Then a moment later.
When I can't see her or grab at her, she gets away with a lot more. Can't hold what's not in your hand.
She has pin-pointed all the words we don't want her to use, and then she uses them all in a sentence.
Audrey: You don't want me to say the words butt or poopy or fatso, right?
me: (trying not to laugh) yes. that's right.
Audrey: Or tooty. (she's smiling)
Audrey: Or ca ca?
me: Yes. Please choose different words.
Audrey: Ok, tooty.
And then to time out.
In the build up to Frances' birth each of our kids handled the upcoming change differently. Audrey exercised some moments of anger by throwing that which WAS in her hands. One morning, she was angry with me and Tom for leaving the kitchen while she was eating breakfast. It would seem she needed help and was angry no one was there, and she had been cranky from the moment she woke up. So, she took a half-full gallon of milk (no lid) and threw it against the sliding glass door directly behind her. When I returned to the dining room, I found Audrey calmly eating her cereal, a look of peace on her face, completely ignoring the mess behind her. How was she to be responsible for that mess? She can't hold what's not in her hand.
Likewise, another night before Tom got home from work, I was preparing dinner. Sean and Audrey were watching TV, and my pregnant self was enjoying a moment of solitude while cooking. Audrey came into the kitchen asking for a snack, and I told her no, she would need to wait until dinner.
Audrey: I want some food. RIGHT. NOW.
me: Audrey, talking to me like that will not work. You can choose some kind words.
Audrey: I want a snack!
me: You already had a snack, and now it's time to wait until dinner.
Audrey: I want a snack RIGHT NOW!
me: Saying "right now" will not get you what you want.
Instead of responding to me, she stood on a step stool and swiped at a large glass of ice water I had on the counter. It crashed to the ground, breaking the glass into a million pieces, water everywhere. Neither one of us could hold that.
If you hold a tiny infant in public, you will find that people want to converse with you. Or at least they do with me. All the time. People come up because they want to see Frances, they want to see her face, they want to tell me stories about when they were parents, or about their own infant child now, or about their grandkids. I talk to more people when I'm holding an infant than any other time in my life. And for those parents whose children are grown, our conversations ALWAYS end with them telling me to "enjoy this now, because it goes so fast" or saying "I miss that stage" or "mine were never that small" or "mine are teenagers now, and I wish they were like that again" or "I have a two year old and he talks back, not like when he was a baby." The prevailing theme is to enjoy it because "it goes so fast." Yet once I offered jokingly for someone to take my kids for the day - it was a stranger, and of course they wouldn't have done it, but for me it was more of a gesture -
person: Enjoy it. It goes so fast.
me: Well, do you want to take my three kids for the day?
person: (laughing) Oh! No! I bet you don't get much sleep with them, do you?
me: No I don't.
person: It's hard work. (then the nostalgia took hold again) They are so fun when they're little.
We parted ways and I reflected on our exchange. The person was telling me to enjoy it, but she didn't want to actually take my kids for the day. Why not? Well, probably because she envisioned it would be a lot of work, and not much sleep, and because she's a perfect stranger. Who are these kids to her? The nostalgia thrown at me feels like it negates the difficulty of this stage in life. Yes, yes, it's a whole lot of fun to cradle Frances in my arms and look into her eyes while she coos. She then can vomit all over me and our moment is gone, robbed by the need to change her clothes, my clothes, and spray down the chair and carpet to avoid stains. Yes, it's a blast to play with Sean and Audrey in the living room, but it's no cake walk to discipline them, or yell when someone's about to get hit in the face by a flying toy or swinging bat. Yes, it's phenomenal to see our three kids resemble us in features or mannerisms, but it's hell not getting to have an uninterrupted conversation with my partner and best friend. I miss that guy - that person I used to talk with all the time - that person I used to go to the movies with and hold his hand.
I think what people are telling me when they say "enjoy it, it goes so fast" is "you can't hold what's not in your hand." Having three kids under the age of 5 is intense - some might say it's CRAZY - but the beauty of this time is that they are right here in our hands. They rely upon us for everything and our life revolves around them: their eating, their sleeping, their bathing, and pooping. The majority of our time is spent caring for them or playing with them or wishing they would go to sleep at bedtime. And the flip side: it's tiring, maddening, challenging, and crazy-making to raise kids. It doesn't feel like it's going fast when I'm washing poopy cloth diapers in the cold, cold Minnesota water in the toilet. Nothing is going fast when they are whining because I poured the milk into their bowl the wrong way. Time creeps along when all three kids are hungry at the same time, or pooping at the same time, or crying at the same time.
It's only a short time that we actually hold our children physically in our arms. It's magical, but thank God it goes quickly, because we're sleep deprived, and Frankie can't control the movements of her arms, and she's in constant threat of one of her siblings smothering her with too much love. It's a short time that we actually hold our toddlers in our arms, and it's the best to receive their hugs, but thank goodness it doesn't last too long, because our backs ache from carrying our children around. When they are right here in our arms, it's amazing to be part of their everyday life, and yet there are times when I need a break from that intensity. That's what's so magical and fleeting about life.
You can't hold what's not in your hand.