She chooses a small table by the wall. I drop my bag on a chair and hand her my ipad. Then I open my laptop across from her and sit down. She pops her headphones in and nibbles on her chocolate croissant as she begins working a jigsaw puzzle on the screen. I open my most immediate deadline of the day and get to work.
I’d love to take off and push off deadlines every time she has a school holiday. But wow does she get a lot of them now. So today I am testing the theory that I don’t have to, that with her, I can mix things together.
For an hour and a half we sit just like that. She in her little world, me in mine. We lock eyes every time one of us leans a little too hard on the table, causing it to tilt and sway. We smile. I ask her how she’s doing, occasionally peek over the ipad, but she is content and, just sitting with her, I am too. When she’s hit her impressive, almost two-hour limit of sitting there, we leave.
I used to compare my unborn babies to cupcakes.
Throughout both of my pregnancies you’d hear me wishing for a way to check on the lives growing inside me the way you might turn the oven light on to see just how far you overfilled your cupcake tin and watch the batter solidify and expand. I wanted more than what the occasional ultrasound revealed. I believed that just being able to peek at them in there, safe and sound, to watch them for a minute or two (or more) would calm my nerves. I wanted the visual assurances that everything would be ok, that they would be more than ok.
Later in the afternoon, we’ve done our big tasks for the day. We’ve run errands and she’s bounced alongside of me as we’ve walked, bubbling over with stories that, without her little brother tagging along, she finally has the space and quiet to release. And I have the space and quiet to ask the follow-ups that always linger on my tongue. We’ve begun packing for our upcoming big trip and she’s brought t-shirts and dresses to the suitcases one at a time, taking the task of packing her own things very seriously. I’ve hit a few more deadlines and she’s played with her Legos.
We have time before we need to leave for ballet so we do what we do these days, we drag out our coloring books and spill a box of colored pencils on the table. She shows me her work, asks if I like it, and, of course, I do. We chat about school and family and friends.
The cupcake metaphor still holds as those little lives grow bigger by the minute (though it does become a bit weirder). Now I can see how they’re growing, I watch it happen. I see the progress and the changes. Now I don’t need an oven light to see that they are ok.
But still, I want some assurances. I want to check on them. I want to see the things that, even as they run and twirl around me, I still just can’t see with the naked eye. Are they overflowing in all the right places or have I not filled them up enough? Do they have the right ingredients in the right balances? Have I done enough and am I doing this right?
It’s a full week later now and another day off for her. Our plans to spend it much like last week’s day get thrown when little brother develops croup and Wednesday morning finds me sitting in a steamy bathroom, trying to clear his airways. We’ve been up since 3am and it’s going to be a long day.
She wakes and pops her head into the bathroom. She knows the drill, knows what it means to see us there and can probably read everything by the look on his face. “I’ll be right back!” she spurts. Seconds later she returns with a stuffed bear. Both of them claim ownership of this bear and we can’t remember anymore so the poor bear becomes the rope in a loud game of tug-of-war. But today, he will make it all better. She holds the bear out and the struggling little boy on my lap smiles. Then he laughs. Right there, in the steamy bathroom, as he struggles for air, she made him laugh. And now they are playing.
The deeper I get into parenting them, the more they begin to take shape as people, not just my little people but real people of the world with real thoughts and passions and dreams that have less and less to do with me, the more I worry about what my hands have done and continue to do. I want to peek inside to see if the seeds of kindness and gratitude, love and creativity, independence and friendship, that I’ve tried to place there are taking root. I want to see not just what their personalities reveal to me today, a muddled mix of them and their development stages and ages that mask their true selves. I want to see what they will blossom into. I’d love nothing more than to, just for a minute, just for a second, catch a glimpse of the future when all of the work of today has yielded their lives so that I can see where I’m going wrong (and, maybe even, where I’m going right).
But I’m starting to recognize that these oven light moments come around fairly often if I’m paying attention.
In the way that she quietly sat with me as I worked and patiently waited as I finished, I saw the healthy buds of focus and support. In the way she happily babbled to me as we drove from place to place, I saw her future of easy conversation and effortless friendships. In the way she eagerly dove into our chores and helped organize our tasks, I saw a world that will be hers thanks to her determination and energy. In the way she made her little brother smile, I saw a future of relationships that are deep and fulfilling. And in the way my heart feels full just moving through the day next to her, I see our future together.
Perhaps the truest sign that you’re doing this parenting thing ok, better than ok, that all of your efforts are working out and your blunders not messing things up too badly, is that you love hanging out with the little person you’re raising.