Tuesday, July 29, 2008

locally grown

I have this image in my mind, of frolicking—yes, frolicking—through my mother’s large garden as a child. It looks like this: churned, damp dirt beneath my bare feet; the taste of fresh snapped green beans; the residue of tomato plants, rich and inviting, embedded in the grooves of my fingers. My mom is bent over her pepper plants, long brown hair hiding her face. She looks up as I skip past and smiles. There are morning songbirds and bees creating a background hum, an outdoor OM. I remember this moment as some sort of return to my family’s own personal 20x30 Eden in the middle of a suburban subdivision.

So when Noah let out an enormous groan, complete with shoulder sagging and watery-eyes at the very thought of having to head to our community garden plot yesterday, I felt a stab in the heart. And before I could begin to muster the long list of reasons why we should embrace growing our own food and supporting a local family farm at the same time—not to mention my rousing round of “it will be fun”-- Max chimed in “I am so not pulling any of those weeds.” Lizzie, everyday more aware of when she seems to be missing something, let out a hearty whimper/squirm combo as if to cry, “yeah, whatever they just said.”

Our foray into food growing started all right, with all five of us hoeing and raking and planting away early this summer. It lasted, of course, all of 15 minutes, until a friend of Noah’s who was also at the farm invited him home for a play-date and Justin started yelping that he had only agreed to come as “moral support” and Lizzie was sick of trying to sleep in the heat and wind and dirt and Max, well, he fell in a pile of manure.

“Look at me! I’m leaning in by the pooooop! I’m leaning in by the poooooooop! It can’t touch me!” Max sang (to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I think) between giggles. He was standing near the healthy pile of dung that was left for community garden members to spread on their plots.

“Max, come away from there please. Come help Mama plant this spinach. I’ll tell you all about this thing called ‘carbon footprints’ and how we’re doing our part to slow ours down,” I yelled back, pausing momentarily to see my three year old only standing on one leg as he leaned ever closer the pile of poo.

“Carbon whats?”

He planted his bare foot back on the ground and tilted his head up enough so that he could find me from under the rim of his hat. I caught myself letting out a long, loving sigh, because even from fifty feet away, I could see the blue of his unearthly eyes matched the pale hue of his floppy sunhat. It never stops amazing me, how as mothers we get these unabashed floods of worship for our children at any given moment. I started to walk over, thinking of the best way to explain how we are slowly eviscerating our planet (without scaring the crap out of him).

“CARBON FOOOOOTPRRRINTS,” Max said in his best deep growl. He was marching (as in, sumo wrestler-style) in place next to the aforementioned poop. I recognized this move immediately as his ever-so-accurate impersonation of a dinosaur, and I actually started to think of how to explain the whole global warming/human impact on the earth and our environment thing from a way-back-when-dinos-roamed place. Seriously.

But just then, as my little T-Rex/cave man/sumo-wrestler went for an extra large step… You guessed it. He tipped a little too far to the right and plummeted directly into the manure pile (of course). Oh boy.

When he sat back up, I expected a flood of tears. Instead, I got a roar—his prehistoric playtime had not even missed a beat-- despite the fact that his arms and legs were smudged with brown and his dad was kneeling in the dirt, vacillating between chortling laughter and comments on how glad he was we brought my car to the farm.

I spent the next month and a half trying to talk to the kidlets about the importance of eating locally, of learning about the cycles of seasons and harvests and the blessings of being able to see our food in every stage, from seedlings to cooked meals on our table. I am passionate about this and feel like it is my matriarchal duty to pass along the understandings I’ve learned via Michael Pollan, Barbra Kingsolver and the whole locavore revolution. My children, for the most part, simply bemoan the fact that kale tastes no better from our garden than it does from our co-op, and in fact, as Noah points out, is perhaps worse after seeing the mass exodus of earwigs escaping the firm green and purple leaves as we harvest.

It took me until just this week (surprise, surprise) to remember that the best way to show our children something of abstract importance is to simply shut up and, well, show them. And so yesterday, I packed them up and drove to the farm. We got out of the car with the usual grumbles, but instead of heading straight to our plot to get in a hurried weed/harvest/healthy-eating-and-good-environmental-stewardship-lecture before the baby cried/the toddler wet his pants/the nine year old just melted, we went to the livestock barn and ogled the still-new piglets. We went through the farm store, feasted on fresh popcorn, and meandered down the raspberry patch lane. Eventually, we wound up back at the garden, where I got to work without a word. Within a few minutes, Noah sat beside me, picking at the leaves of a tomato plant while absentmindedly telling me about his newest Lego creation. Max was pulling a weed out of the ground (only to replant it over and over again). Out of the corner of my eye, I think I saw him snap, bite, and promptly spit out a green bean.

I tell this to my mother late last night, recounting with pride the possible progress on greening my children. She listens in silence, the distance between our two houses seeming bigger than it is, until she lets out a small laugh.

“Are you kidding? You had zero interest in that garden, unless it was to whine about coming to help me in it,” she said, after hearing me compare my idyllic vegetable growing youth to that of my thankless children. “You never ate fresh green beans or most anything else. I wasn’t growing peanut butter sandwiches without crust, and that was about all you wanted. By the way, I had short hair by then. Your memory is hilarious.”


Maybe that’s the ticket: to let my children feel the dirt under their moon sliver fingernails, come to understand life through the cycles of plants and foods and the earth beneath their feet. It can be messy. It can be dreaded or even something just short of disastrous.

And yet, Max looked at me this morning, as I washed blueberries for his breakfast, and said, “did we make these mama?”

Yes, I think there is something to be said about planting the seed and just letting it….grow.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

it's about...time

“Summertime, and the living is easy,” Noah croons as he stretches his clasped arms high above his head. He is standing ankle deep in the waters of the bay, looking out on the dusk stillness with lazy enjoyment. I am watching from five feet behind him, my toes nestled into the cool sand, Lizzie asleep in the frontpack. Her limbs are slack and I can just barely feel her breath rise and fall against me. Max and a friend take turns jumping off the dock, their laughter loud and insanely free as they soar from the rickety wood to the waters edge, and quickly scramble back again. Yes, I think to myself, summertime is so, so good.

This evening, one of ice cream sundaes and paddle boards and cold lake splashes, almost never happened. Don’t worry—there is no tragic almost accident or illness or major dramatic turn of events about to happen here—it is simply my occasional yet neurotic need to put parenting into a neat little box marked “perfect, anal, alternative, natural mothering.” Obnoxious, but true. We have been on the go nearly every night since the Fourth of July, busy with family and friends who flock to our pristine neck of the woods for the three whopping weeks of lovely weather we get each year. My children and their bedtime routine parted ways as the Independence Day fireworks exploded over their heads. In the clouds of hazy smoke that followed us home that night, they marveled at just how many stars could be seen when the world went dark.

“I’m staying up this late every night,” Noah whispered, his eyes directed skyward. “This is incredible.”

It’s true. It was. The deep July sky was pocked full of winking white lights. The Milky Way traced in an arc directly above us; a soft, smudgy outline that resembled eraser marks across black construction paper. It was the kind of night that is so thick and clear, if we’d laid flat across the driveway and reached up, we could have, perhaps, pressed stars between our fingers.

But we didn’t, because I went into frenzy-mode due to the fact that the boys were still awake at 11:38 p.m. As I bustled around the car, unbuckling car seats and gathering up a half-asleep toddler and squirmy baby, Noah keep talking, still looking up.

“Did you know that stars are like, millions of light years away or something? So the stars up there could have gone out a long time ago and we can still see their light. Cool, but kind-of sad too.”

I could have told him how his grandfather bought his grandmother a star for their first anniversary, how I carry that thought with me and still look to the sky and see millions of years of lovers because of it. I could have paused to reflect on the immenseness of his statement on the fire-light that continues to shine long after its celestial body dies. I felt that twinge of conversations we might have had, even as I hastily tucked him in, barking all the way out the door “go to sleep, it is way too late, close your eyes this second.”

I must interject now, that I am blessed to be raising my three littles alongside a tribe of amazing women—women who have far more patience (they can answer Max’s constant interruptions with smiles every time), far more parental discipline (they actually turned down parties when their babies needed to be home and in bed on schedule), far more knowledge on basically everything that goes along with raising a happy, healthy, creative and independent child. And then, there is me, the woman who nine years and fours months into her journey as a mother still feels completely ill-equipped most days. I am the one who views every minute that slipped by past bedtime as a monumental testament to my shortcomings and continual inability to stick with a parenting plan.

Having had Noah while sill in college—I was just turning 21-- and not going a week without someone still commenting (with disapproving taste) that I look way to young to have three children, my parenting mindfully confidence hovers just above the sludge found under the sandy bottom of our bay. And so I tend to err on the side of something that manifests itself to look like extreme robocop-granola mom. This is when I get all crazy and start turning good ideals into absolutes, must recently displayed in the BWS, otherwise known as Bedtime Warden Syndrome.

“They must, must, must be asleep by 8:30 p.m.” I lectured Justin as we stood together in the kitchen one evening shortly after the Fourth of July. It had been a non-stop mantra, which I failed on miserably, every night for over a week. If I had allowed myself to have fun while failing it—instead of fretting at each nightly gathering as the sky grew rosy and sleepy and my children grew rambunctious and loud—it would have been one thing. The fact of the matter was, however, that I became this awful, mean, per-snickety lady when we would finally arrive home. I shouted demands at my children, chastised my husband for allowing the bedtime rule breakdown (although I, myself, was usually the initial perpetrator). I was becoming the world’s biggest contradiction: I wanted to stay, let my children enjoy the company of summer friends or family, take the time for Justin and I to talk and be out and together after a long winter of baby-abyss. Yet, each time we did, I went into this panicked mode, as if my children missing an hour or two of sleep would kill off half their growing brain cells or permanently stunt their growth or give them fodder for therapy in 30 years. I ended up squashing the fun we’d just had with a harried, miserable Chinese fire drill of a bedtime

Justin, for his part, let me run with this dualistic personality for about six more days before finally shutting it down.

“It’s summer, Kate,” he sighed in that I-know-you-won’t-hear-me-way. “It’s still so light out at 8:30. They are kids. Don’t you remember running around until dark when you were little? Catching fireflies and falling asleep exhausted and sandy and all that stuff?”

I looked at him and (despite the flood of just such fond memories) uttered, in my most drawn-out, high and mighty voice “they will be asleep tonight by 8:30 p.m. Children need a routine. They need a bedtime that is not deviated from and we are going to get back on track for them. Period.”

Except, we didn’t. We got a phone call and a dinner invitation and we ended up here, on this beach, inhaling the sweet smells of lake and wind and watching my children’s love for this place we call home deepen like hues of water fading from daytime blue to dusk’s slate black.

The bay is still enough to reflect the glittering drops of sun as it sets behind us, each orange and pink ripple making its way from the middle of the lake to lap at Noah’s feet. I forget, standing here with my toes embedded in the sand and my daughter sleeping soundly on my chest, to check my watch. I am lost in Max’s belly laughs and Noah’s off-pitch song to no one. I am aware, for the first time in a long time, that the practice of parenting is not necessarily an art at all. Perhaps instead, it is in occasionally letting go of the practice—the theories and articles, the research and rhetoric— where the beauty of mothering is hidden.

The first star of the evening is beginning to come into view as the blue of the atmosphere darkens. Noah is watching it glow in the water. I am watching it in the sky. I move into the lake beside him and find his hand for a moment.

“Do you think that one is still burning?” I ask, just above a whisper.

He looks at me with his toothy grin and nods. “As long as we can see it mom, I think that might be all that matters.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

kite strings

I woke up yesterday morning to see the trees in our backyard doing the hula. Leaves and branches were swaying left, right, and in circular patterns. Set against a horizon of silver, a billowing set of low gray clouds emerged in the window, and within 20 seconds, had disappeared out of its frame.

It put me in a mood.

Living in a place that sees the sunshine very little in 365 days, summer is supposed to be a cherished celebration for those of us who make it through the bleak skies of fall, the frigid winters, the mud season each spring. We are supposed to rise with sunshine and deep blue glory; we are supposed to be warmed by the breeze that dances in off the lake. We are supposed to lollygag around downtown, eating our nightly (or morning, noon, and nightly in my case) ice cream quickly because the heat will surely leave it running down the cone between our fingers. We are NOT supposed to wake up freezing, put on sweats and hunker down under a blanket, waiting for Mother Nature to stop the cruel joke.

Lizzie and I had just gotten through a long night. She was up no less than 300—okay, three—times, only happy if I nursed her sitting up while reading Pablo Neruda aloud. No, I am not kidding. Max woke up crabby, slamming his blanket around the room and shooting evil eyes at anyone who suggested he may want to please use the potty. Even Noah was glum, staring outside at the building winds with audible disgust.

My husband, who refuses to let the weather win when it comes to his Sunday morning bike rides, had been cycling across the misty pavement for well over an hour already. By the time he returned (two more hours and 65 miles later….) I was throwing myself a full on “where we live sucks” silent pity party. So when his sweaty, smiling self trounced in and suggested we go fly a kite at the soccer fields near our house, I was less than enthused. The boys were crawling up the walls, however, and jumped at an opportunity to harness the wind for something, anything semi-exciting.

As they walked down the driveway, I plopped onto the couch with Liz, hoping she’d drift into sleep and I’d curl up with a book. She had other plans. We nursed. We rocked. We laid together in bed. Every time I thought her breathing had slowed to that rhythm of sleep, I would wiggle carefully free and start to slide out the door. And her eyes would pop open, poltergeist style, leaving me to cry out after 57 minutes “what is wrong with you?!?”

Windy, nasty day, plus refusing to nap newborn, plus whatever else I was finding to complain about, equaled major meltdown waiting to occur. I put Lizzie in her car seat (that’s what you get, I thought as she arched her back in not-again-with-the-car defiance) and we drove the block and a half to the field, following the speck of red, yellow and green dipping and diving high above. Pulling in, I could see my boys laughing, though the sound was carried away from me, high above the trees with the breeze that held up their kite. Max waved enthusiastically and proceeded spread out in snow-angel making style, his eyes fixed on the long purple tail whipping above him.

Lizzie and I stepped out of the car. She gulped the wind, both giggling and sputtering at the bursts of air that she caught in the back of her throat. I jogged her over to Justin, and found myself promptly lying next to Max, watching Noah yank the kite string to and fro.

“It’s almost my turn,” Max whispered, his eyes never leaving the sky.

I nodded, my gaze following suit. The kite was soaring, following Noah’s full-speed run across the field as if it were his shadow. The colors were stark against the overcast horizon. The sound, that crisp, distinct noise of wind against nylon, swirled around us in dizzying fashion. I became fixated on it and on the colors in the sky. I was thinking of Khaled Hosseini’s book, The Kite Runner. A story based in tumultuous Kabul just before, during, and after the Soviet Invasion. Its beautiful, broken words tell much of childhoods lost to hatred and war. I was lying in the damp, green grass, watching my boys take turns with the reel. They released line to see the kite nearly disappear, winding it in again to make the sail flip and rocket, and I felt myself starting to cry.

This is where I must add: could my Sunday morning whining, my pouting, my poor-me-for-having-to-live-in-a-beautiful-safe-tight-knit-town-nestled-between-hills-and-fresh-water-on-such-a-yucky-day be any more ridiculous?

Every once in a while I have these uh-oh moments as a mother. They usually come when I am cleaning out the old toys from my boys’ bedrooms. I will fill a garbage bag full of plastic crap, games missing pieces, and one sock wonders. And still, their rooms will be full and I will be standing in the middle of it feeling heartsick with over-consumption and the abundance that comes with our lives. I end up going on a week or two warpath of “no new anything” and preachy lectures high atop my kitchen sink soapbox about the dangers of our consumer culture and the disgusting way we have fallen victim to it. Noah is nine. Max is three. They look at me with sad, guilty faces and sometimes bring up our three sponsored children in Africa, and how much they’d like to share with them and I worry that I’ve told them too much too soon for the magic of childhood. Then Max remarks he’d especially like to share all his carrots or peas or anything else that is green and he is forced to try, and Noah inevitably chimes in “yeah, and mom we don’t have everything. I mean, we don’t even get cable.” And I am on the warpath all over again.

Yesterday, however, was different. I didn’t jump up and demand the kite grounded so we could have a crash course in the horrors of war or the “do you have any idea how much this opportunity would have meant to child in Afghanistan—in the last days of the monarchy or now—this kite that we all take for granted?” Instead, I remained still. I watched the kite. I imagined Afghani mothers, afraid to let their children walk down the street because their height or the shape of their eyes may give them away as something deemed less worthy than a dog; I felt the fear that would go with it. There is something that happens when we become mothers, an ability to feel more deeply. It is a well of rich joys and also an understanding of bottomless sorrow—the kind a mother must feel if she cannot give her starving child food, or must dig through bomb-riddled rubble in vain for a cry she no longer hears.

When my children were born, I had the sense that time stood not still, but together, as if every mother, every birth was with me. It was a root of connection that has never been matched. Since then, I’ve tried to grow in my conscious efforts to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for women and children. Our family gives time and resources to causes that work tirelessly toward those goals. I am actively involved in Mothers Acting Up, a planet-wide movement of mamas, arising with a collective voice for change. I’m a doer—or chronic over doer Justin would say—because as a mother, I feel a weight of responsibility.

That’s all well and good, except for this: where is my gratitude? Standing up in the middle of that field I was struck by how much I take for granted. It is easy to say I am thankful to never worry about having a warm bed for my children, or food and water to greet them each morning. I find myself telling others that’s why I am an activist. Yet, I forget, on a daily basis, that each moment when my children are safe and well is cause for celebration and joy. This is the place I want to work on now; an attitude of gratitude. There is, I think, responsibility for this part too.

And so I watched my boys fly their kite. When it finally came crashing back to earth, Max picked it up, the wind pulling it quickly above his head. Noah cracked up. Lizzie giggled. Justin smiled. I stood, just breathing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A little reflection goes a long way

Lizzie and I have figured out a fantastic new game. It involves me standing up, my growing bundle of blubber and drool sitting in my arms like a Lazy Boy, and watching as she presses her feet hard against the mirror attached to my bedroom wall. And then, we laugh. A lot.

Before you go thinking I’ve gone off the entertainment-by-way-of-a-newborn deep end, let me back up a bit.
A few weeks ago, Lizzie discovered her toes. It was as if she had found out the world’s best toy was actually connected to her body. All the time. Just imagine! Her whole face smiled every time she rocked—much like a top running out of spin—from side to side, clinging to her toes and babbling with glee. It would seem nothing could top this magic….until yesterday, when we realized that with the help of the full length mirror, we magically created two extra sets of toes to play with…and ah, how we passed the time today, feet against glass, just admiring the 20 stubby little piggies from all angles.

The humidity this afternoon was killer, like someone turned on a giant sauna and forgot to set the timer. My entire neighborhood was moving in complete lethargy—even more so than usual for a post Fourth of July Monday—because the air was so thick and damp and we were all soaking in our own sweat. As I type this, I am giggling at mental images of people stepping out of their homes, buck naked, to sit on cedar benches and sauna-tize in their front lawns.

Okay, maybe I am off the deep end.

But I digress. Today was hot enough that I was happy to stay inside, happy to let Lizzie spend almost an hour (an infant eternity, really) playing with the toes on her feet and the toes of her reflection.

All this time in front of a mirror got me thinking (no, not about the fact that I have not showered in three days or that my glasses are bent beyond hope or that I don’t even remember where the little make-up I own is actually kept). Looking at Lizzie as she examined herself with both deep curiosity and obvious trepidation, I began to think about my role in guiding my children as they grow, and how much it feels like their successes and struggles are mirrors of my mothering abilities.

Sounds a bit egocentric right? Perhaps, but its roots lie in this simple truth: I have a nine year-old. I am quickly discovering that something happens between years eight and nine; a shift that begins to transform your imagination-living child into a person who wants to talk about the grocery list, how to solve the kitchen ant problem (with no harm to said ants of course) and the upcoming election (okay, maybe that last one is all his mama, but we’ll go there another time). Don’t get me wrong, Noah still loves to invent games of spies and trolls and sorcerers. It’s just that there is something more grown up about him everyday, some awareness in me that we are halfway through Noah’s time in our home, and that the next half will be about him coming into his own, which inevitably means differentiating from Justin and I.

I will admit to being an overwrought parent when it comes to imagining my children’s future selves. I spent too many years in psychology classes not to fret over what metaskills I am providing poor foundations for or what untapped talents I somehow smushed or ignored. As time goes by, I am beginning to understand that one of my biggest challenges as a parent will be to celebrate the people Noah and Max and Lizzie will grow to be, without pushing my own agenda or aspirations for them.

How does one do that? How do you hold the mirror up to your child and allow them to see an authentic reflection, clear of parentally driven dreams?

Just before drifting off to sleep tonight, I asked Noah about his orange—his happiest moment—of the day. He looked at me with his faded blue eyes, scrunched up his freckled nose, and then, as if a thought was beamed in from one of the crickets making such a racquet outside, he slapped his hand to his chest and said, “when I got to skipper the pixel today and we did a jibe-ho. I just really love sailing mom.” I’m no nautical savant, so I don’t totally understand what he is talking about, except that he got to drive the boat he was assigned to for the first time during a tricky (I think?) move.

I do not miss the potential metaphor of the moment. We celebrate by having him describe, in painstaking detail, how the thunderheads rolled in from the northwest while he was doing a triangle pattern in the middle of the harbor and how he kept his cool as he steered his crew back to the docks safely.

“It was like the clouds crept up from behind the point, mom, and suddenly, wham! It started to pour,” he says, his voice building with drama and volume.
“And so I took charge. I looked at our instructor and said ‘we need to get back on shore. This could be dangerous.’ And you know what he said mom?”
“What Noah?”
“He said everything is dangerous to some degree. And so I said,” a pause here for effect, “Not love. Loving someone isn’t dangerous at all.”

My little boy looks at me as if he has imparted a very grown-up epiphany and that I will, in return, now express my gratitude. His posture is pin straight as he sits in his bed, the key move for Noah when he’s impressed himself with his word choices. I look at him, this shirtless waif of a child, who crawled into bed in his boxer shorts. My thoughts quickly move from “wow, he likes sailing. His dad used to race sailboats professionally. Maybe this is his calling, maybe he’ll be in the America’s Cup someday…how can I help make that happen?” to “thank goodness he still believes in love without heartache. Now how can I help preserve that?”

Some days Noah wants to be the president. Some days he wants to be a Lego engineer. And most the time, if I ask some far-flung request for him to tell me what the future will hold, he looks at me blankly and says, “I have no idea. Can I have chocolate milk with dinner?”

As I listen to him spouting sailing terminology, the heavy curtains of sleep begin to pull at his eyelids. A warm breeze dances in and he yawns, patting my knee.
“That’s ‘jibe’ mom, as in j-i-b-e.”

He understands that while he is sleeping, I’ll be googling words like that so that I can talk to him intelligibly by morning about this week’s latest passion. And he’ll love that I do that, just as I did when the thing that was to be his life’s calling was hip hop dancing. Or electric guitar. Or comic book creating.

Perhaps the role of a parent is to simply hold up the mirror and stand behind our children, out of the way but still in plain view. I keep picturing Lizzie’s reflected toes, matched perfectly against her real ones. And I hope against hope that for all of her years, she will smile as she did today when she looks at herself, because in the end, the people I want each of my children to grow up to be are, well, already standing before me.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

coming full circle

I had a dream last night, that I nursed Lizzie until she went to college. I know. Sounds a little creepy, I agree.

When I awoke this morning, pink pre-sun tones were bleeding into the deep hues of blue night. Lizzie was stirring beside me, her mouth, still so bird-like, opening and closing in a half-asleep search. Gently, I pulled her to me and watched the sun rise from the eastern hills in front of our house, happy as she slurped and suckled that for now, we are still in that other dimension known as infant and mother.

Maybe it is because I am (pretty certain anyway) that Lizzie is my last baby, I feel so very aware of how fast time slips by, even in the abyss/black hole/exhaustion/delirious nature of having a newborn. Every milestone Lizzie reaches is so bittersweet (except when she slept through the night—I was all alleluia over that one). Her first smile, her first laugh, the way she has settled into the routine of grabbing the necklace I wear everyday as she nurses; all of these moments bring great joy, but also that feeling of being the last time I experience my own baby’s firsts.

The necklace that Lizzie has taken to playing with as she eats was a gift from my friend Alison. It has three small silver circles, each bearing the name of one of my children. Alison gave me the necklace just before Lizzie’s birth, but at the time, I wore only Noah and Max. A circle with a simply stamped heart hung in the place that soon would belong to my daughter. When we brought her home, so small and new, still curled in my lap like she was in the womb, Alison brought Lizzie’s circle to me. We sat together on the couch as she laced it through the chain, between the names of her brothers. Alison put the heart on a chain of its own, which I put away for Lizzie to have someday. The two of us, quiet on the couch, leaned in toward this new being with complete adoration.

And then, Lizzie woke. Bleating hunger cries followed, as did my groan and quick inhale as she latched on to a very engorged, cracked, raw me. It was grey and snowy outside, and my hormones had me weeping again—as I had taken to doing with every sideways glance or needy older child yelp or well, basically anything. I’ll never get through this thing called having three kids, I said to Alison in doe-eyed panic.

She smiled and said something to the effect of “yes you will, because this part doesn’t last…if it did, nobody would procreate.”

I thought about that as I tucked soft baby hairs behind Lizzie’s ears in the dawn light. It has been almost five months since her birth and while she is still so young—and in a phase that is all consuming—I can’t help wanting to freeze us in this moment. It only takes the thump, patter, patter, patter of morning footsteps from the bedrooms above to understand how fast time disappears.

Noah is nine now, the sounds of his waking and walking far less clumsy than that of Max, who tumbles out of bed with animated energy that is year three. Both boys make their way into the bedroom and curl up on either side of Lizzie and I. Noah brings his latest 300-plus-page book about heroes, myths, magic or dragons and settles in without a word. Max clambers up with his sippy cup hanging from his mouth and The B trailing behind him. He plants sloppy kisses on us both and then hops up to start doing 360’s onto the floor.

I feel so full with happiness at this scene, aware of each stage of life I’m witnessing through the lens of a mother (even though sometimes I have to remind myself, yes, that mother is me). I want to make time stand still. In this second, I want my children to be these children—the ones who will be a day closer to leaving my nest when they settle into their beds tonight-- forever.

Don’t mistake me: I am sill so far from the earth mama who never has a day of non-existent patience or near neurotic nagging. And I’ve been known to fantasize plenty about the day when Justin and I can sail off into the Caribbean sunset, only to send grown children postcards while sipping from a second bottle of red wine. It’s just that sometimes it hits me—how small this time is in the greater scheme of life—and it makes me want to slow down, to ignore the minefield of Legos, turn off the phones, and leave the laundry in a heap. It makes me want to laugh, long and loud with my boys, nuzzle quietly with my baby, and simply be grateful that when she reaches up for my necklace, she has three circles to grab onto.