It was mid-summer, 3½ years ago, and I was taking the kids to the neighborhood park. Col, then 2½, was perched in our rickety stroller, while Rose, 4 months, was bandaged onto my chest by acres of fabric cinched around her doughy self.
The cache of supplies required to keep two small people alive until nap time bulged through the duct-taped hole in the strollers cargo area. Sidewalks exhaled waves of heat.
Col was testing some vague law of physics by grinding his sneakers against the spinning stroller wheels. Rose was grunting and scritching around her damp cloth nest as if trying to find a way out. I was pep-talking myself through it all, praying for shade, for patience, for no potty accidents, and for perhaps even some adult conversation by the swing set.
We ran into a friend and her two children, ages 4 and 6. They were walking to the trolley stop with nothing more than the small purse swinging off my friends arm. Were going downtown for smoothies! the 4-year-old announced. I squinted in the dazzling sunlight at the trio, who could have just told me they were taking the trolley to Jamaica, for how exotic and impossible it sounded.
My friend smiled at me, the empathetic grin of a mother who had trudged years through the wilderness of sleep-deprivation with a diaper bag chafing against her hip. It gets easier, she said. Actually, it just changes. It gets less physical, more mental. And then she sauntered off with her ambulatory, verbal children while I hobbled down to the park, smears of sweat blooming between me and Rose.
Yesterday Col and Rose, now 6 and almost 4, built a Lego hospital and queued up a line of Lego people waiting patiently for doctors to mend their broken backs. I wandered around idly, wondering how to help, until I realized Col and Rose, engrossed in their play, didnt need my help. So I scrubbed the fridge and made mayonnaise, reveling in my independence but grateful for the nearness of the children.
Then, in the way of all sibling collaborations, it was suddenly over. One kid leaned into the Legos, knocking the whole creation down, and the other was heartbroken and mad. I was called out of my domestic smugness to mediate, to furnish words that would invoke instant empathy, forgiveness and sharing, to help my children be the eternal best friends that I hope theyll be. And ultimately, to invite their own solutions, instead of trudging out old tattered phrases like use your words.
Getting to the park is easy these days much easier than tapping my brain for satisfactory answers to the avalanche of questions that slide from the kids minds daily. And I love their questions, and their complicated emotions and the methodical forward ticking of our lives. Sometimes, however, I wish I could just pop a grumpy child in a sling and bounce her to sleep.
Rachel Turiels column runs the 1st and 3rd Sunday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising an urban homestead.