This day went from fall to summer and back again. It was a typical late summer day in the mountains - ever-changing, beautiful, tugging at your emotions as you ponder bidding summer farewell. It was a spectacular day - featuring a number of activities I was very blessed to participate in - yet I felt like my emotions were on a seasonal roller-coaster as well. I felt as unpredictable as my toddler, and I don't even know why.
The day started out nicely enough. Brian and I had a gift certificate for a kayak trip on the French Broad River. Our friends Kim and Jeff kindly watched Dora for us and we set off at 9 am with the requisite laid-back, hippy outfitters driving us to the put-in near Bent Creek. There were two other women and a man in the van with us, but we quickly left them behind. Aside from the Blue Herons, Kingfishers, and dragonflies, we were alone. The morning started out cool, but slowly the clouds burned away and the sun came out, warming up the trees enough to stimulate long, slow songs from the Cicadas.
It was magical - floating through the Biltmore estate, insulated for most of the trip from anything other than each other and nature. We chatted, we sat in silence, we laughed, we argued about how to steer through the rocks and other obstacles. It was the first time in over 2 years that I have been separated from Dora and inaccessible by phone or any other way. It was fairly liberating to let it go, trust that everything would be fine (which it was, of course). When we returned home, I walked down the steps to the car and felt the same calmness inside that I had felt on the river. Ahhhh, I thought, I have finally figured out how to maintain the stress-relieving affects of leisure activities after they end! It only took me 33 years to figure it out - what a relief!
Dora came home exhausted from her own happy adventures, falling into bed for her nap. She didn't sleep long though - a foreshadowing of things to come. Brian left for a gig, and we went to a friend's child's birthday party. It was a warm, loving group and no one minded that Dora kept horning in on the gift opening. A few cupcakes later, we proceeded to a couple of errands. Things devolved from this sunny scene to a low point - me yelling sternly at Dora, who had run away from me in the checkout line and was lying on the floor of the cereal aisle at the grocery store, laughing. In hindsight, I realize there were a few variables stacked against us, and I pushed it too far with the errands. But at the time I wondered how it was that I could have such a beautiful morning - a break from toddlerhood that should have left me feeling refreshed and patient - and have an afternoon that involved yelling at Dora in front of all the other Ingles' shoppers.
As a parent, it is so easy to feel guilty about what we do. I feel guilty about working, spending 40 hours a week away from my child at a job that, while it is valuable and important, doesn't result in lives saved, diseases cured, or wars ended. I feel guilty about going to the gym, asking Dora to spare me a few more hours a week than she already does so I can blow off some steam with the other sweaty ladies. I feel guilty when we hire a babysitter or trade hours with a friend so we can have some time together. I think these feelings are only natural, but I also think that I have to let that guilt go whenever I can. A friend who is also a mother told me recently that her philosophy is that taking care of her marriage IS taking care of her kids. I think she is right. I want Dora to grow up with parents who love each other, and the only way I can make that happen is if Brian and I take some time to focus on each other now and then.
I put Dora to bed early tonight, and her level of exhaustion became apparent when I nursed her before story time. She fell asleep in my arms, something she rarely does anymore. Instead of promptly depositing her into bed, I held her close, letting her rest her head on my shoulder, listening to her breathe. We used to sit on the couch holding Dora for at least an hour after she fell asleep when she was tiny, both of us getting weepy at the thought of how fleeting these sweet moments would be.
Tonight as I held her, I felt another sense of loss as I considered how big she feels, and how soon she will be too big or too independent to let me hold her while she sleeps. I closed my eyes, matching the rhythm of her breathing, thinking back even further to my pregnancy, when we were one body, one spirit, wrapped up together in our own sweet space.
It is amazing - painful, even - to think of how much she has changed in just two short years. How did we go from sitting on the couch watching my belly move around to where we are now, stealing moments away from our baby so we can reconnect, chasing her through the grocery store angry, embarrassed, exhausted? I guess we've come all that way because we're human - we're imperfect, and we do our best, which isn't always that great but is also sometimes quite spectacular. I believe we all have to work towards forgiving ourselves for our own humanity. I must also believe that, like carrying the stillness of the river back with me to land, the love we have for Isadora holds steady and true in our hearts, overarching and outlasting everything else, even our imperfections and our virtues. It is that love, more than anything else, that makes us who we are now. And that, my friend, is truly magical.