We used to say that when we went to a restaurant there was a window. It became Sean’s standard new-dad-but-getting-the-hang-of-it line. “We know that when we walk into the restaurant we have 20 minutes, 30 or 35 tops, before the wheels fall off. My goal is to always be through the door with the car seat or stroller before a single wheel drops,” he’d say proudly.
He never judged the parents who missed the window, but like some sort of talent scout watching a football game in the midwest, he’d cock his head toward a table, click the side of his mouth, and say, “They’re on the edge of their window.” To this day we still watch parents with toddlers at restaurants, not to stare daggers and make them feel like dirt for daring to bring their messy life into a restaurant, but rather to smile and admire the beautifully choreographed chaos of crayons that get pulled from pockets, paper airplanes that get made from napkins, or the sweet nothings whispered in tiny, pink, seashell ears that bring little belly laughs.
I was once so moved by the weariness on the faces of the parents and the bottomless energy of a child, that I whispered to Sean through tears, “Let’s pay their check, ok? Pay it for the cash-strapped parents we were. Promise?” He nodded and I slipped out, knowing all too well I’d nearly missed my emotional window.
This time of meals and snacks and boo-boos and dust ups, it’s so maddeningly exhausting and relentless. Some days it feels hopeless, while other it feels as if it’s my calling. Lately I’ve been yearning to wrap my arms around time, buffering us from anything but being one another’s center.
Saturday we went to a restaurant. We didn’t think about a window or about crayons. We didn’t panic when there was no kids menu or lemonade. We sat in the candlelight alongside a pond filled with the fattest, happiest ducks you could ever imagine. Ave’s stuffed lamb came in with us, alternately nestled in her arms and prone on the table, a still life of daughters and road trips, and the tenuous cusp of crying into pillows rather than cuddling stuffed animals.
We watched those ducks and talked about the restaurant, from the light fixtures to the beams running along the wall behind us. Snow fell through the windows and children at another table carried on conversations that were not unfamiliar to us. They ran around their parents just shy of being too wild, their years of outings having taught them about windows too, how far mom and dad can be pushed. Testing and pulling, but never breaking.
A quiet moment and a sound different than anything I’d heard. Finley, head resting on the table, arms crossed beneath them like a cradle. Her voice no more than a squeak, I missed it the first time. “What’s that, sweet love?” I asked leaning into her. “Mama, I don’t want to grow up.” She stared at me, the tell tale wrinkle in her chin, her lips turning down at the side, and that surprised look she gets. It’s almost shock that in this life that she lives with such unbridled joy, there is something so sharp that she has to cry out. She waits, watching me. I am sure that my forehead matches her, the pull at the sides of my mouth equally intense. The clash of knowing she must grow up and loving that she is so happy as a child, as our child, choked me.
I paused, more and more I know that selfish responses can offer fleeting satisfaction and lasting repercussions. “Oh, but do you know a secret? No matter how big you grow or how old you get, you will always be my littlest.” She paused, considering it. “You and I will always be mom and baby inside ourselves.” This time I watched her.
She swallowed and shivered, “Even if I catch up to my sisters?” I smiled, “Even then, but we have so much more you-aren’t-grown-up-yet time. Ok?” She nodded, tilted her head, and climbed into my lap, her arms snaking into my shirt as snow fell outside and the lights at The Foundry twinkled around us.
I’ll never stop looking through this new window, marveling at the colors and brushstrokes that these years have painted on my heart.
Next time, a tissue warning please! Now, I will eat Halloween candy to get rid of this lump in my throat.
Aw, sorry. If I tag it Mama Sap, it’s a pretty good bet that one of us is going to cry!
This line, “Lately I’ve been yearning to wrap my arms around time, buffering us from anything but being one another’s center.” I’ve struggled to say that in many different ways in my own work, but you captured all of it, the love, time’s passage, holding on and letting go with such beauty. Thank you.
May our arms be strong.
That’s my favorite line too. Though every word is worth another read. Such insight and premonition in Finley.
And then looking up to see your header ‘You come from a long line of weepers’. True.
Yes this line: Lately I’ve been yearning to wrap my arms around time, buffering us from anything but being one another’s center.
Me too! My littlest is in kindergarten and I so miss him at home with me. I miss him not being my baby.
This is so gorgeously witten. Motherhood IS your calling. I hope I can rise to the occasion as spectacularly.
Oh my – our babies. Always our babies. Tears my friends. Yet I’m not so silently grateful that our toddler time is done. We’ve served it well. xo
I love and appreciate the window into your world – one where little ones still fit on laps. You and your family and your words – all beautiful.
Oh my heart. She’s a sweet one, that Fin. Tell her I don’t want to grow up yet either.
First snowfall. That was a day to remember.
Weeping. I have had a few similar exchanges with Grace lately, particularly the night before her birthday, when she cried, hard, about not wanting to grow up. She doesn’t want to grow away from me, she doesn’t want to be a teenager she wants NOW to last forever. And oh, how I know that feeling, because I do too. But just as you say, that would be a selfish and damaging way to respond. So instead I told her I knew exactly how she felt, but I also knew it would keep getting better, and there was so much to look forward to. But I tucked her in and left the room and bawled, myself, for a long while. xox
I would very much like to know your Finley.
I adore your writing, Amanda. Even before I started reading this I was saying this morning that I remembered your writing as ‘warm’… and indeed this post was full of that. What a beautiful soul your daughter is. And you have captured it so well. x
“You and I will always be mom and baby inside ourselves.” That’s what triggered my tears.
Took all my boys to a bagel shop yesterday, and a mom of older kids (not even with her) sympathetically marveled at our disruptive chaos. When I made some self-deprecating remark that was part-apology, part-exasperation, she responded with a tone so genuine and wistful it stopped me in my tracks, “I miss when mine were that young.” Oh…how do we appreciate this fleeting life as we’re living it?? Not only in retrospect? Well, for me, reading your words…that helps more than most things. So thank you.
We help each other, don’t we? Parents and kids, strangers and friends? Just be gentle on you. xo
Beautifully said. Now I get to live those memories through my Grandkids
Love thinking of a second chance!
I love taking the girls out to eat now, and each time I remember the chaos – joyous and fatiguing – of taking them out when there was a “window.” My girls are also in the I-don’t-want-to-grow-up stage and in my heart I know soon they *will* want to grow up, more than they already are. Life it seems, one sigh after another.
I just found your blog via NaBloPoMo. This is beautiful! Like several of the other commenters above, I’m in love with this line in particular: “Lately I’ve been yearning to wrap my arms around time, buffering us from anything but being one another’s center.”
My boys are still in the baby and toddler stages, so we are in that stage of minding the window. Part of me can’t wait to be at the more relaxed stage of older kids, but a bigger part is just so sad to see these baby days go. Thanks for writing this – I’m looking forward to reading more.
Thank you for coming over and for reading and leaving a comment. As much as I mourn the passing of each stage, I can say sincerely, that each new one brings something I never would have imagined loving as much as I do.