I don’t know when my kids took their first steps.
I heard that. You, with your neatly completed baby book proudly on display marking all of your baby’s precious firsts, I heard you gasp just now. I’m just glad I can’t see the look of horror, or pity, or disgust on your face at this very moment.
I don’t have a lock of hair from the first hair cut – though I distinctly remember that day – it was as if the barber was jamming those shears straight into my poor boy’s skull.
I don’t know when they rolled over.
I don’t know when they first said, Mama.
Not exactly. I don’t know the exact day or time. If you look through my kids sparsely completed baby books, it’s as if they never began walking. The only thing that I do (probably) have recorded is their first taste of food. One day, we decided it was time. We sat them down in a high chair, put the bib on and gave them “real food.” Nothing subjective about it. On a certain day, at a certain time, they ate food for the very first time.
Everything else happened, and is happening, so gradually. Marking a day and time in some book seems so arbitrary to me. They both were cruising along furniture and walking with assistance for months with a tiny step (hands free) here and there. Do those “count”? Is the first step the one where he took two from me to his dad, or the two he took, unprompted, forgetting that he wasn’t holding on to anything? For many, many days my boys practiced and practiced trying to walk – sort of letting go, kind of getting it, a half step here, maybe a full step there. And then one day, they were walking.
I’m not a bad mom. Really, I have been paying attention. To everything. I was there for all the, “did he just say ‘Mama’?” moments. But their lives seem to be marked by larger swaths of time then those that would fit in a blank space in a book. (Or maybe I’m just too wordy.) I remember the months of hearing them babble, every now and then, catching a real word. Or maybe it’s just that remembering days seems too daunting; marking their growth in weeks and months is more forgiving.
In the 3 years that I’ve been a mother, it is hard to recall a day when I haven’t been told, read or overheard someone telling me it “goes so fast.” It feels like there is this gnawing, constant, voice reminding me to “enjoy every minute.” I’ve even read a couple refreshingly honest articles about how, no one really enjoys the moment when you’re in a crowded public place and your child acts like someone is jamming shears into his skull, but still, those articles too, seem to end with a warning. Others offer a knowing, “the days are long but the years are short” comment, but the effect is the same. It makes me feel sad and worried. Should I be doing more to ‘savor every minute’? Am I going to be reduced to a pool of tears when, 10 years from now, I need to know the exact day Nolan first walked and I won’t have anywhere to look it up? Or will it be enough to know it was just after he turned one – in that 13th month?
I’ve watched other mothers soldier through the start of a new school year, and sure there are a few who joke about finally having the freedom to get back to soap operas and bonbons, but mostly I hear mothers describe it as “bittersweet”. I get that. But why can’t it all just be sweet? I don’t feel the sadness I thought I would now that my three year old is in pre-school. He looks so cute going off to school in his uniform with his backpack (yes, he wears a uniform – so Asian, no?). I can watch him through the fence, playing in the yard and he looks so big. And then I see him dragging along his stuffed monkey and he is little again. I know I’ll never get the this time back but I also know there are more fun things to look forward to. I remember the months when he was first born and those seemed like “the best” times. And then when he first started walking and those seemed like the best times. Then he was 2 and those months were great. And now he is 3 and it’s still the best time.
We watch the show, “Ni Hao, Kai Lan.” There is an episode about bears and foxes not getting along. For months, Hunter has been talking about the bears and the “boxes.” We had a little fox that made our home in Connecticut, his home, and this summer he would come to visit, often. We loved watching the little “box” take his nap in our backyard. (And I know, I’m not supposed to encourage mispronunciations but I did. I absolutely did because really, what’s cuter then 3 year old speak?)
Today, Hunter said fox. With an F. Just like that. Everyday his vocabulary becomes clearer and clearer. In a few months, you won’t be able to hear him talk about the getting the “showpa from the chicken,” because he’ll ask you in his sweet little voice for the “spatula from the kitchen”. And again, I won’t be able to tell you when he started speaking so clearly. It’s all just gradually happening. Or maybe I just choose to see it this way because then it doesn’t seem so fast. It feels just right.
Or maybe it’s China. I somehow feel that being here is helping us mark our time differently than if we had stayed in Connecticut. New faces, new places and new ways of doing things reminds you to look more closely. Everywhere. At everything. The weeks and months are not only marked by the milestones my kids gradually reach but also by our gradual familiarity with our adopted home. Or maybe it’s just the 1000+ pictures I mentioned were on my phone.
So remind me in 15 years, when I try to reminisce with a half-empty baby book and end up sobbing to a young mother trying to buy groceries, to re-read this.)