So, do you learn how to relate to them?
She meant kids, as they grow. Like, is it a natural thing, to relate to your child as s/he goes through every awkward, annoying, emotional, dramatic, temporary stage?
She asked after Alex came over with a self-made puzzle for us to solve, then marched back to create the next “level” upon our completion.
She has a two year old and a newborn, both daughters, and this eight year old boy is about a universe apart from where her life is at right now.
I wanted to tell her, Oh, sure, of course. Motherhood is just that magical, that somehow I get every knock-knock joke that leaves him doubled over on the floor in nonsensical laughter, or that his need to draw and explain pictures in vivid detail (including the conversation bubbles, which I could very well read myself) is just as endearing now as it was the first 5,000 times he has presented them to me.
I wanted to tell her that, thanks to motherhood, my patience and understanding has grown and multiplied with each year and that, yes, unequivocally, I relate to my children right where they are.
But I couldn’t.
And the truth is, not only do I not relate to where they are now, I sometimes find myself looking past where they are and longing for them to just get to the other side already. Why can’t they just skip ahead and be rational human beings who get my sarcasm without looking at me like a wounded bird every time I try to be a little funny, at their expense, and fail.
And the truth is, as much as I write about my trials with my daughter, it’s my perfect-in-school, wants-to-please-everyone, child I’ve had the longest, my sweet, soulful Alexander, who I have the hardest time relating to (at this exact moment in our family life, that is – which is always subject to change, as we all do.)
In the moments before we left for a short two nights away, Alex was in a panic over not being able to find his favorite blanket. In the rush, with the other kids already packed into the car and my eagerness to get on the road, we went back and forth for a moment. When he finally did find his blanket, he made some small remark, a slight against me, pointing out how he had been right and I had been wrong, spoken in uncharacteristically disrespectful tone for him.
In an oh-no-you-did-not huff, I snatched the blanket from him and told him to go get in the car. I put the sad little blanket on the counter and marched out the door behind him.
He sniffled and wept as he buckled himself in the back of the van.
I started the engine and silently reassured myself, over-and-over, as I drove away from our house. You were not out of line. He cannot be disrespectful. He needs to set an example as the oldest. He needs to learn about actions and consequences. He needed to learn that being humble is more important than being right. Besides, he’s too big for a baby blanket anyhow. He needs to grow up.
In the back, he stopped sniffling. He thanked me for his breakfast sandwich. And as I pumped gas, I realized that I had forgotten something of my own at home. I would have to drive back.
And I, of course, would retrieve the boy’s blanket. (What was it I wanted him to learn again? Being humble is better than being right? Something like that?)
You see, at this moment, Alex is eight, heading toward nine, and I sense the coming of the moment when his first footfall out of Neverland, out of all of the innocent magic of childhood, is going to rattle my world.
Will we relate to each other better then? Both of us on this side of the glass, co-conspirators in the magic that will continue for his siblings – will we see one another more clearly? Will he suddenly get my humor and I his? Will we understand?
I do not know.
Just as I did not have an answer for my friend yesterday.
Turns out all that I do understand, so far, is that this whole motherhood thing is just blind love and devotion. It’s laughing when jokes aren’t funny. It’s kissing when you know that boo-boos aren’t so bad. It’s listening to endless tales of mysteries that you know are not real and pretending with wide-eyed wonder each Christmas and Easter morning, no matter how groggy and sleepless you are. And sometimes, it’s turning back home to let your child hold onto the unraveling blanket that has covered him since birth.
It’s remembering that every phase, even every painfully un-relatable phase, is fleeting (and hoping, with every new morning, that the relationship we’re building, is not.)