Six Years of Jacob

Two days ago my son Jacob turned six. And then I cried. Birthdays are so bittersweet.

My son was super-excited about his birthday. He had been counting down the days for weeks. He told anyone who would listen that he was turning six soon – in twelve, nine, eight, six, three, two days. On his actual birthday Jacob and his big sister announced to strangers at the grocery store, at the toy store, at the park and on the street that today was his birthday. The enthusiasm was infectious. I loved how excited they were.

Still, the bittersweetness of it all overwhelmed me. Six somehow sounds much older than five. On Jacob’s birthday I was forced to acknowledge that I am no longer a mother of little kids. My kids are nine and a half and six now, solidly school age. They are growing up quickly – too quickly. Even at this moment, as I type, Jacob is reading over my shoulder. He’s making out most of the words, and happy that I’m writing about him. There’s no slowing down the train of childhood. It’s only picking up speed as it goes.

Of course, it’s an amazing journey all the same. My children are awe-inspiringly fabulous in pretty much every way. And they are so much their own people, with their own ideas and interests and quirks. Being their mother has made me much better in so many ways.

At six years old, Jacob loves superheroes and Star Wars. He likes to wrestle and crack jokes. He is reading well, and working on his printing. His favourite sport is “all of them.” He alternately adores and despises his sister. The most exciting moment of his day is when his dad comes home. And he still wakes up and crawls into my bed early most mornings. It’s not comfortable for me, but when I ask him to go back to his own bed and he says “but you are just too cozy, Mama” I can’t resist. What’s a little discomfort, in the face of such sweetness?

I guess you could say the same thing about the birthday. What’s a little bitter in the face of such sweetness? Of course I want to take every chance to let my son know how glad I am to have him in my life. And so I order the cake and the candles, stay up late putting training wheels on the bike, and force back the tears in front of him. This is about him, not about me.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

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What I Will do This Year

Let’s just ignore the fact that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post, shall we? Home renovations are progressing (at long last), and they’ve preoccupied me. Also, I’ve been preparing to head back to school for another semester, which just started today. At the moment I’m signed up for geography and an English course on drama. In case you were wondering how last semester went, I took three classes and got two A’s and one A-, which I am very happy with. But enough with the housekeeping.

birthday year ahead navel gazing

Birthday extreme close-up

Today is my 38th birthday. For the past few years my birthdays have triggered something of an existential crisis. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that surely I should be wiser, more grounded and more accomplished at this point in my life. To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in the past year (or the past 38 years), I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past few years I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. I believe it’s still a worthwhile exercise regardless of how it turns out, because it gives me a chance to focus on reflect, and think about what I want more of in my life. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.

What I Will do at 38

  • Finish up the renovations that have taken almost a year, and then resist the urge to make even more home improvements.
  • Go running.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Volunteer in a middle school.
  • Sing.
  • Learn how to use my camera.
  • Write.
  • Finish my prerequisites so that I can apply for teacher training.
  • Nap more often.
  • Laugh more.
  • Apply for teacher training.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Practice forgiveness of myself and others.
  • Drink even more herbal tea.
  • Eat more leafy greens.
  • Take some mini vacations with my family.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

Hannah + Nine

Nine years ago right now I was sitting in a bed on the maternity ward, making phone calls. “It looks like the baby is coming early. I won’t be able to come to the event tonight. No need to worry. Can you bring me apples? I’d love apples.” When I wasn’t organizing, I was joking with my husband. He was working hard to keep the mood light, which wasn’t particularly easy as I was worried about having my baby at 34 weeks gestation.

From the moment Hannah came shooting into the world, skidding across the table while a room full of medical personnel gasped, it was clear that she was a force to be reckoned with. Big and healthy for a baby born six weeks early, she let us all know she had arrived with a hearty cry. At the time, I was relieved. Crying was a good sign. Crying meant she was breathing. Crying meant she was going to be okay.

I am no longer the same person I was on that sunny, cold day in 2005 when my life changed on a dime. My daughter isn’t the same person, either. And yet, if I survey our new little family I can see how the groundwork was laid, even then, for all that followed. I can see how my daughter has always been in a rush, eager to do everything quickly, quick to make her voice heard. I can see how I have always been dragged headlong into parenting, never quite ready, always a little worried about how things would turn out. I can also see that it was always going to be fine.

Today, as I celebrate my daughter’s ninth birthday, I don’t really know what to say about her. My girl is entering tweendom, growing like a weed, learning new things every day. She loves art and diaries – Hannah can never have enough diaries. She’s a huge fan of Harry Potter, and this past year we read all the books together. She has a fervent desire to be Hermione Granger, and to that end she’s perfecting her English accent. She tap dances through her days, singing as she goes.

Hannah is very much her own person, now. I find myself writing less and less about her here, because her story isn’t really mine to share anymore. She’s writing it down herself in all of her diaries, illustrated with her own artwork. More and more, I sit back and let her work things out for herself, test her strength, and make her own decisions. I’m still here to set boundaries and help her pick up the pieces, but I’m increasingly taking on more of an advisory capacity than anything else.

Nine years ago, I became a mother. It wasn’t like a switch was flipped, though. Rather, I have continued to become a mother, each and every day. My daughter has been there with me every step of the way. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve figured it out together. As I survey the young woman she has become, I can only feel proud and amazed that she is mine. My daughter. My Hannah. Happy birthday to both of us.

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Five Years Ago Today …

jacob five years oldTomorrow my son Jacob will celebrate his fifth birthday. As the big day approaches, I find my mind drifting back, like it does in the lead-up to each birthday my children celebrate. I think, “Five years ago right now I finished my last day of work.” Or I muse, “Five years ago today I was starting to get impatient.” On Jacob’s actual birthday I will probably think, “Five years ago right now I was pretty uncomfortable, and I’m glad I’m not in labour today.”

Five years ago today was the last full day I spent pregnant. The odds are better than great that it was the last day I ever will spend pregnant. Now I kind of wish I had taken the time to enjoy and appreciate it. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that I was experiencing my final 24 hours as a pregnant woman. Oh, I suspected maybe something was up, with the random contractions that can happen at the end of pregnancy coming a little more often. The truth, however, is that I didn’t think that I had time to deal with any of that. I was too busy nesting.

In fact, the one thing I remember with great clarity from my last day as a pregnant woman was how very much I wanted to cook and clean. I stayed up late slicing cucumbers for pickles, and then I washed the dishes. I wanted to clean my bathtub, too, but by the time I was finished it was too late and I was worried I would disturb my daughter sleeping in the next room. Instead of cleaning I headed to bed that night fantasizing about what I would do the next day. First, I would drop my daughter off at daycare, then I would pick up my friend and we would make pickles. Then, at last, I would clean the bathtub.

At the time I thought of cleaning the bathtub in the same way I might now think of eating a slice of chocolate cake. Cleaning the bathtub wouldn’t be a chore, or even something I would be glad to get done. It would be perfection. I felt another couple of contractions before I drifted off, and I told them to go away until my bathtub was sparkling.

The contractions didn’t go away. The next morning I did go pick up my friend, and we did make pickles. However, as we worked, she kept looking at me funny. She laughed at my inability to stand still. I believe she described my behaviour as being like a cat looking for a laundry basket to have her kittens in. I refused to admit that anything was up, though. I had a bathtub to clean.

pickles birthday

As I drove my friend home, a contraction hit while I was sitting at a stop light. The thought flicked through my head that I probably shouldn’t be driving at that moment. Luckily her house was only a few minutes from mine, so I got her home safely, and made it back home myself. I called my husband, and realized I wouldn’t be cleaning the bathtub that day. My son was born about two and a half hours later, just 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.

Five years ago today, I was too busy thinking about the next thing to think about the moment I was experiencing. The truth is that most of parenting has been that way for me. I’m always thinking about what comes next. What I have to do. What I should have done better. I forget to notice the way my children are sitting together on the couch, heads close together, conspiring against me. I don’t really listen to what they’re telling me. I ask them please to wait a minute, I’m in the middle of something.

Actually, there’s nothing wrong with all of that. No parent can devote one hundred percent of their attention to their children, whenever their children ask for it. We have other things to do. Other things to think about it. Pieces of our lives that we don’t want to share. And yet, if there’s one thing I wish I’d done more of, it’s stop to pay attention. Because if there’s anything your child’s birthday does, it’s remind you just how quickly time goes. How one minute you can be fantasizing about cleaning a bathtub, and the next moment you can be watching your five-year-old blow out his birthday candles, wondering where the time went.

What I Will do This Year

I celebrated my 37th birthday yesterday. I have to say – birthdays are getting less fun with each passing year. It’s not just that I’m getting older. Rather, some part of me can’t help but feel as if I should have a greater sense of direction, more wisdom, more to show. These days, my birthday triggers an existential crisis, leaving me to ask what am I doing with my life?

To help myself overcome this intense birthday navel-gazing, I like to set some personal intentions. It’s a way to give myself that direction I’m craving. It’s also a way to honour the fact that I have a whole new year stretched out before me, and I can use it however I see fit. Instead of lamenting what I haven’t done in my 37 years on earth so far, I’m going to think about what I want to do.

For the past two years, I’ve made birthday resolutions. I’ve had about a 50/50 success rate. I think that’s to be expected, especially given that things change over the course of a year. Still, even at a 50/50 success rate, I’m bringing a whole lot of things into my life that I didn’t have the year before. In any case, the list is more about aspirations or ideas, than writing a to-do list I must complete. It’s about setting a tone, if you will. So without further ado, here’s my list for this year.

Me on my 37th Birthday

What I Will do at 37

  • Renovate my house, so that it better suits my needs.
  • Buy a bicycle.
  • Sing.
  • Go on a women’s art retreat.
  • Write.
  • Do yoga.
  • Spend more time with my hands in the dirt.
  • Eat less sugar.
  • Read more books.
  • Teach my daughter Hannah to use the sewing machine.
  • Send my son Jacob to kindergarten.
  • Learn how to make fabulous iced tea.
  • Play fewer video games.
  • Give my kids their own household chores.
  • Allow myself to just experience what it’s like to have both of my children in school all day, before making a bunch of plans to fill up the time.
  • Go on at least one fun family outing a month.
  • Try kayaking.
  • Not beat myself up if I don’t do everything on this list.

What do you want to do with your next year on earth? I love it if you’d play along in honour of my birthday!

Hannah + Eight

Looking outside

They always tell you that your first child is a science experiment. To some extent, they’re right. You’re trying things out, gathering the evidence, and deciding what works (or, all too often, what doesn’t). However, I feel that the analogy is imperfect. Scientists are supposed to be dispassionate, devoid of bias and not invested in any particular outcome. And let me tell you, as a parent, I am very much the opposite of dispassionate. I would say that parenting a first child is more like learning to cook by creating a meal for an elaborate dinner party – you feel very much out of your depth, but you want it to be good, so you’re giving it your all and just hoping it works itself out.

Cat ears: a day trip must-have

On the cold, clear February morning eight years ago when I woke up to find that my water had broken six weeks early, I had no idea what I was in for. I didn’t yet understand the combination of fierce mother-love, loss of independence, self-deprivation, utter confusion and divine transcendence that comes with being a parent. Like most first-time expectant parents, I was focused primarily on labour and delivery. In fairness, birth is sort of a big deal. But in retrospect, it was so very short and self-contained. When I think about my parenting journey, it’s everything that came after Hannah shot out of me at full speed, skidding across the delivery table, that really matters. It’s eight years’ worth of moments, big and small, that I’ve spent with my daughter that define our relationship today.

'Happy' pose

If I draw on my dinner party analogy, eight years in I’m still in the thick of cooking. I can see that some of the dishes have worked out well, while others were maybe a mistake. I don’t yet know how it will turn out in the end. But even so, it’s apparent to me that on the whole, it’s pretty freaking amazing. And, what’s more, with each day that passes I have a more competent and able assistant. She is defining what we’re doing, and what the end result will be. She is blowing me away with her creativity, her compassion, and her sense of humour. As we cook together, she changes me, and makes me better.

Scary face!

Each of the little moments of parenting are complete in and of themselves. They’re like little vignettes or short stories, each distinct from the other. And so, when I think back on the past eight years, I have a hard time teasing out the narrative. I struggle to connect the newborn baby who spent her first days in the NICU with the chubby-legged toddler who insisted on making her own fashion choices very early on. The baby I carried inside me seems like a totally different being from the four-year-old who passionately embraced drawing, and they both seem very different from the seven-year-old who patiently read her little brother his favourite stories.

All dressed up for some fun on the playground

And yet, sometimes, I see the reflections of those other moments in the person my daughter is today. When she sleeps, her face looks so much younger, and I can see her baby-self. When she curls up in my lap, if I ignore the gangly arms and legs of childhood, I can feel the same feeling I used to feel when she was so much younger and she came to me in search of solace. There are reminders of how she came to be the child she is today, but they are dim, and they are fleeting. This is why parents complain that time passes too quickly – because we can never fully re-capture those moments after they have passed.

Helping Mom fold laundry at 8 months

Today I will bake and ice a birthday cake. I will give gifts and sing “Happy Birthday” to my daughter. I will take Hannah to school and swimming lessons, but I won’t insist that she practice her spelling because it is her birthday, after all. I will try to remember what the journey has been like, and how she was on her other birthdays. But mostly, I will celebrate the person my daughter is today, on her eighth birthday. Because I don’t want to miss out on this moment, in my vain attempt to re-capture the past.

Four Years of Jacob

Having a second child is very different from having a first child – or at least it was for me. By the time my son Jacob was born, I had spent three and a half years parenting his big sister Hannah. I knew things that I didn’t know on the day I gave birth the first time. I had the benefit of experience under my belt, and I was much more relaxed about the whole thing. I knew that Jacob would grow all too fast, and so I tried my best to soak up whatever little fragments of his essence I could latch on to before they slipped away.

Today, my son turns four years old. I have spent the last four years feeling sand slipping through my fingers. I try to grab hold of the moments, searching for solid pieces of my son as he is right now. But it all gets away from me, as he grows at a lightning pace. But I don’t have time to even really feel sad about it, because wallowing would just take me away from my task of trying to appreciate the amazing person that my son is today.

If I were to describe that amazing person to you, I would say that he is outgoing and funny and very physical. He likes to climb and throw and run and jump. He has little care for what he should and should not throw, and where he should and should not run and jump. He (almost) never stops moving. He also likes to create order in his world, categorizing things like books and cars and bowls. He has the saddest face in the world when he thinks I’m angry at him, and the happiest face in the world when he’s pleasantly surprised by something. But when he’s happiest of all he doesn’t smile, he looks very serious, as if he’s trying to play nonchalant. He doesn’t like cold water or very windy days. He loves to tell jokes.

One of the things that I do to capture my son’s childhood is photograph it. I snap and snap and snap, thanking my lucky stars that my babies were born in the age of digital photography, when I can take as many photos as I want, virtually for free. I freeze moments, hoping that in the process I will create something I can hold on to. Here are some of the photos I’ve snapped of Jacob lately:

Buzz Lightyear at the grocery store

Just hanging out in flippers. As you do.

Working the antennae

Dressed up as a scarecrow

M-m-mango!

Bubbles!

Ice cream face

Serious boy

Boy on grass

Telling me a story about boats

My son the superhero

Happy birthday to Jacob!

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