It took me until last year to realize that checking on my then four-year-old five times a night might be getting to be a little much.
Now that I’ve gotten that fear out of the way, I just try really hard not to think about the day when the tiny bed I tuck her into each night will be too small for her. But something tells me I won’t be sleeping any better by then.
The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech has been a somber reminder that a large part of parenting means relinquishing control. In the beginning, we cross our fingers on the sonographer’s table, praying the ultrasounds are okay. Then, once the baby gets here, we anxiously wait to see if they’re meeting all of their developmental milestones on time (“Wait a second Ms. BabyDoc, mine’s not talking yet – is that okay?”). We spend time wringing our hands over organic peanut butter vs. generic and whether play-based preschools are really the best way to go. And before we know it, we’re kissing them goodbye in the residence hall lobby. Unsure if the dorm is also home to a troubled student who might randomly commit the unspeakable.
I guess that’s when it clicks: the first time we realize how much (or how little) power we ever really had to begin with.
Right now, my kids are still small; my husband and I talk about saving for college in the same conversations we have about The Little Gym. We squirrel away money for higher learning and ponder where it should be spent (because of course they’ll have plenty of options!). We compare and contrast the finer points of both Ivy League schools and HBCUs and why we both think they should at least leave the state. But for all the investing we do – both financially and emotionally - there will never be enough in the 529 Plan for me to picture our kids away at college until they actually get there. For some reason, the mental image of us sitting in the audience of their high school and college graduations are easier for me to imagine (even if my hair is grey) than what will take place in between. These days, that thought’s just too scary.
Of course I expect that the four years will be well spent – that they’ll thrive academically and socially – it’s the unknowns that haunt me. The parts that even the most vigilant attachment parenting can’t prevent. And not only the heinous crimes, but also the soul crushing things. Things I can easily imagine like my son’s study partner from, say, biology class – the blonde kid who always insists on hi-fiving him - making fun of black people at a “Ghetto Party” (for MLK Weekend, how thoughtful!). Or how one moment we could be marveling at our daughter's impressive gross motor skills, the next going to away games cheering her on...only to later send her off to college where her entire basketball team's success is marred by some jerk flinging cheap shots at them? (Oh, hell no!)
It’s probably a good thing that kid-sized beds are as small as they are. While we can’t pretend they’ll fit them forever, it’s not the same bed they’ll sleep in until they’re eighteen; it lets me pretend they’ll be little for at least a little while. I can tuck my son into it without imagining his legs eventually dangling from it, because by then it will long be outgrown. I take temporary comfort knowing that it will never be slept in by a person that doesn’t love Goodnight, Moon. Just looking at it lets me conveniently ignore the fact that one day, they won’t want me to read I Love You Forever to them ever again.
Because as much as my husband and I dream of the day when all three of our kids are big enough to drop off at a relative’s while we jet off to Jamaica, as much as we hate picking Cheerios of the floor of the car and who knows where else, every milestone makes me long for the last. Every tiny Zutano hat that gets tossed in a box headed for the Salvation Army reminds me we don’t get these days back. I guess it’s practice for the day this nest is empty, mud no longer tracked through the back door (unless we have a dog). And I'm sure that even then, I'll probably catch myself check on one of them, only to be reminded that they’re off at college and the next time I’ll probably see her is Spring Break. Provided she’s not off getting jiggy in Cancun.
Nobody warned me that 95.5% of my time would be spent pointlessly trying to protect my kids from every paper cut that could possibly happen. And that no amount of reliance on Supernanny or Dr. Sears would prepare me for the parental unknowns. The things – of which there are many – that remain outside of one's control. Because each time any one of them is out of my sight, I’m constantly reminded of those words my Bradley Method instructor gushed on the first day of class. Not about giving birth, but what it actually felt like being somebody's mom:
“It’s like your heart has grown little legs and is running around outside of your body.”
“Um, okay…” I remember looking down at my swollen belly, trying to figure out why the baby preferred to lay on one side instead of the other. Hiccupping. I rubbed the unidentified lump as I crunched on a Luna bar , wondering if everything was okay.
I had no idea that was the safest she’d ever be.
On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.