Oscar likes to put goggles on in the tub. He calls them his “gobbles”. He pronounces r, l, and w as “w”, so he’ll say, “I wuv you Dowa” or “woki” (for his friend Loki at school). He uses m at the beginning of many words that begin with a hard consonant sound, like “mestruction” for construction, or “paw matrol” for Paw Patrol (a show he likes to watch). He replaces the “g” at the start of gymnastics with a “t” - tynastics! Breakfast is “bressie”. Watermelon is “memo”. Lighting McQueen (and all cars) used to be “Aye-Rum-Rums” and then he was “Lightning Taqueen”. Oscar snuggles up to me and says “I want to be “ta-next” to you”.
I pray that I can remember every one of these little speech impediments and quirks as they slowly disappear. Recently I found video of Dora before kindergarten, talking about how excited she was to go to “kindewgawden”. All of that baby voice and baby pronunciation is now gone from her speech. Some of our favorite things she used to say - “lalybugs” (ladybugs), “montey” (monkey), and “furfy” (Murphy)….these are gone. It is a heartbreaking thing that these little signposts of infancy slowly disappear. I know my kids can’t go on to successful careers in business, medicine, or the arts using a “t” where a “k” is needed…but I can barely stand to see these markers of early childhood slowly fade.
I was gone all day yesterday and when I arrived home Oscar greeted me excitedly. “How was your trip, mommy!?” It sounded so exceedingly grown up, even though he was watching Finding Nemo and eating macaroni and cheese shaped like pirates and ships. I put him in his footie pajamas with sharks (his request) and snuggled up with him on the couch, watching the last half hour or so of Nemo. At the end, when Marlin and Nemo are reunited, I started to cry…thinking of both my precious kids and the way they are slowly, surely growing up and pulling away from me. I cried more as I put Oscar to bed, burying my face in his sweet smelling hair, tears rolling down my cheeks and onto his pillow.
The irony of this is that I have more time with my kids now than I ever had. When Dora was a baby I was working away from her 40 hours a week, driving down terrifyingly unsafe Leicester Highway every day to my job, frozen solid with anxiety and fear, wondering if the way the sun reflected so brightly off the other cars was a sign of me losing my mind completely. I traveled and, when she refused a bottle, Dora came with me..hauled from unknown babysitter to unfamiliar daycare in every corner of North Carolina, snuggling together in some unknown hotel room after a day of work and separation. Once, a caretaker tried to feed her before she was old enough for solids, and I cringed in my hotel room alone with her that night as I scrubbed dried cereal from her baby face and hair.
The further irony is that instead of weeping over the fact that my kids are growing, I should of course just be rejoicing that we are all healthy and relatively happy and whole to enjoy and love one another. A wonderful friend who I love and respect dearly lost her son to war. A woman I never knew but whose writing I admired died recently, and her 4 little children now grow up without their mother. My own mother, who had just begun to get sick when I watched Finding Nemo for the first time, is 10 years gone from this Earth. I watched the movie at my parent’s house, and tried to get her to watch, too, telling her it was quite good even for a kid’s movie. She watched some, standing and pacing at the back of the living room, the pain in her back from as-yet-undiagnosed cancer already too painful for her to sit down. Life is so fucking unbelievably unfair, inexplicable, and unrelentingly painful that I’ve no real right to weep over the perfectly normal growing up of my children. Or have I?
The truth, I guess, is that all of life holds some exquisite pain for those who choose to live it fully. Even the happiest moments and joys bring with them a tinge of sorrow at their fleeting, like that last full day of vacation when you want to just have fun on the beach but in your heart you are sad knowing that tomorrow you go back to reality. If I wasn’t weeping into my son’s sweet smelling hair once in a while, perhaps I would just not be caring about his life at all. Perhaps the fact that I can cry over my kids losing their silly pronunciation quirks is a sign of (a bit of) mental health, a sign of emotional fitness whereby the beauty of life is not just appreciated but felt, noticed, loved, mourned, held on to with tightly grasped fingers praying for time to slow.
The only real answer I seem to have is to say it - to speak it or write it down and allow the tears to roll down my cheeks, allow myself to say openly that watching my children grow up is as painful as it is beautiful. I have no choice but to admit to the world that there are evenings when I cannot wait for them to just be asleep so I can have a moment alone, and there are also nights when I can hardly pull myself away from watching their sweet slumbering faces. I am as far from an ideal parent as one can be, at times, but the love I have for Oscar and Dora runs through me like my blood, like an energy source, like something unstoppable that has to move and flow and, at times, break free of its bonds through my tears, to drip onto the pillow of my slumbering son like the tears of all the others mothers in the world, past and present, whose unstoppable force of love cannot be contained.