The woman behind me in line at the supermarket is in awe of my one and a half year old daughter. She asks me questions—her age, her name, whether or not she sleeps well—but keeps her eyes on my baby, while a look of yearning, mixed with nostalgia, spreads across her face.
The woman sighs. “My kids are all grown. I wish they were still little.”
I laugh involuntarily, “You sure about that?”
“Yes, actually,” she responds, straight-faced, and looking me square in eye, “I am.”
I open my mouth to speak, but no words come out. So instead I simply smile, wave goodbye, and head out to the parking lot feeling like this woman has just owned me.
The rest of that morning is a whirlwind of tantrums, messes, spills, and stains. That lady must be nuts (yes, I am still thinking of her). I mean what is she 65? She doesn’t remember what this is like. She’s probably sitting in her immaculate, quiet house, sipping peppermint tea, deciding whether she should read a novel or watch a soap opera.
Twenty minutes and some wrangling later, I manage to get my young toddler into her crib for a nap. After cleaning up from lunch, and tidying her myriad of toys, I crash onto the couch and reach for my library book. I put it down and instinctively reach for the remote. I barely press the power button, when I notice my daughter’s tiny Stride Rite shoes on the floor, one standing upright, the other clumsily on its side.I place the remote in my lap and feel heaviness take hold in my chest.
I get it, suddenly. Now that the house is temporarily silent, and I can reflect on my day thus far, I get it. I can see why the woman at Shop Rite longs for her young children. It’s the stillness. The comfortable, easy stillness. There’s something about the ability to move freely, to think freely, that conjures the realization of how preciously wonderful it is to take care of small children.
All it takes is a glimpse of those tiny shoes on the floor to remind me of the bliss I feel at the first sight of my daughter in the morning; the way she stands at attention in her crib the second I turn the doorknob. The way she gathers up her stuffed animals and favorite blanket to take along with her on the voyage to the changing station, and eventually, the high chair for breakfast.
In these moments I’m not thinking about her first tantrum of the day. The first whine. The first hair pull. The first (of many) Cheerios to hit floor and be crushed underfoot. All I can see is her platinum blonde hair in a static-y slick as she burrows her head into the oversized couch pillows. All I can hear is the sound of her delighted laughter as I “accidentally” drop a fork and yell “Darn it!” All I can feel is the soft, padded flesh of her tiny hands fumbling with my wedding rings.
It’s almost like reflecting on the best parts of the school year during summer vacation, or pining to be in college again after starting a first job. We forget the term papers, the exams, the long hours in the library. We just remember the fleeting, precious experience of it all.
The woman in the grocery store? Naptime is her life now. Only without the guilty cringing over mini outbursts of impatience, or long, exasperated sighs…or those deep rooted, yet passing thoughts of running away from it all.
Of course she wishes her children were still little. Someday, after many years and much distance, I will too.
For now, I’m going to embrace these years of Little Golden Books strewn across my floor, and Costco-sized Annie’s Mac ‘n Cheese taking up space in my garage. I’m going to marvel over her incessant chatter, and hold her tightly every time she asks to be picked up. I will laugh good-heartedly when she wraps her arms around my legs and pushes me away from the stove like a football player with his tackle dummy—even if I’m frying chicken cutlets in hot oil. Because one day, deep into my future, I will wish she were little again, I will long for this life again.
I can hear the first sounds of her stirring from her nap, and I immediately become disillusioned.
But only slightly.