I woke up just after 7 a.m. this morning to the sound of my kids dumping a box of Lego onto the living room floor.
Two or three years ago that noise would have catapulted me out of bed in a semi-conscious attempt at damage control that would have probably ended with me stepping on a handful of pieces of Lego – which, as we all know, were put on this earth to inflict parental puncture wounds – and then swearing as I collapsed on the couch in pain.
Today, though, I turned on the bedside lamp, picked up my phone, scrolled Instagram for a few minutes, checked a few news headlines, took a look at the calendar, briefly contemplated going back to sleep, decided I wanted coffee even more than I wanted sleep, got out of bed, stretched, got my hand clipped by the ceiling fan (tall people problems) and got dressed.
I did all of that before even checking on my children. When I did check on them, they were completely content and injury-free, sitting on the floor with bowls full of Rice Krispies and a heap of Lego between them.
(I should probably have a rule about not eating cereal in the living room, let alone on the floor, but… I don’t. Or at least, I don’t anymore. I think I broke that parenting rule somewhere in between the one about no TV before 2 years old and no food in the car, which is now a bio-hazardous wasteland of ground up Goldfish crackers and fruit roll up sludge).
There was a time, not all that long ago, when I felt practically smothered by my kids. I felt so physically needed all. the. time. that by the end of every day I was completely touched out. I ached from lifting them and carrying them and rocking them, from their knees and elbows digging into me, from their little hands wrapping around my legs and their faces burrowing into my stomach.
For a long time it felt like my body, which had already been given over to pregnancy and birth and, briefly, breastfeeding, wasn’t my own anymore. It was a jungle gym; a resting place; a spit-up receptor.
Then, somewhere along the way, that changed.
My girls are 10 and 6 years old now, and I get to sleep in. I get to read a book. I get to go for a run. Hell, I get to go downstairs to get the laundry out of the dryer without toddler hanging off of me. A few years ago even that would have seemed like a luxury.
The funny thing is, sometimes now my arms ache from their lightness. Their emptiness. Sometimes I do miss the weight of a child on my hip, a little head on my shoulder.
But I know that my girls do still need me, just in different ways. It’s not quite as straightforward as it once was – the tears and anger and frustration aren’t always down to being tired or hungry or in the middle of some mysterious “growth spurt.” These days there are more questions to be asked, more conversations to be had, more hurt feelings to interpret and translate and talk through.
It’s still exhausting, and it’s still beautiful and it still feels like the most important, necessary job I could ever have. It’s just different.
I’m reminded of a quote I recently read by author Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote one of those books I finally have time to read (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – yes, I am 10 years late to this party, but wow, what a book).
“Kids are a great analogy. You want your kids to grow up, and you don’t want your kids to grow up. You want your kids to become independent of you, but it’s also a parent’s worst nightmare: That they won’t need you. It’s like the real tragedy of parenting.”
The thing is – the wonderful, reassuring, blissful, maddening thing: I think they will always need us.