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.”


megan said...

oh my precious, meaningful, blog post, kate!! i loved every minute of it. again, with your beautiful writing and your great stories:)
we are very different personalities, though, as i tend to err on the opposite side of the spectrum, with my son staying up much too late, and me, well, just kind of going with it, probably much too often. but i see where you're coming from, and we all have our things that we fret over. i don't know you all that well, but i would say that you are doing a wonderful job as a mom.

MamaBird said...

Love this - I had BWS horribly with my first child (I blame Weissbluth). I swear, she really needed the routine! And I really needed to lighten up... Kids do benefit from a schedule but if you've got one, it will cushion you during vacay and the odd late night. Plus the older they get the more they can handle deviation. My kids anyways. Great post, tho, lovely and funny and also point well taken.

Zach said...

I love the pic at the end. Nice post.

Damselfly said...

"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." So artfully said. Wow, what a great post!

Mandy said...

I LOVE your writing:)
I tend to be more like Megan - my son staying up toooo late, our "no routine" stems from (read: MY EXCUSE) husbands very non routine job. People tell me to make him (eric/husband) fit into our schedule and not vice versa but I am stubborn and would rather do it the hard way just b/c someone told me not to. (am I totally outing myself to you as a BAD PARENT SLASH HORRIBLE PERSON??)

anyway, as you said over at "life in the grey area" .. I too feel my son will be going to PROM in a pull up ;)

Kate said...

Actually Mandy, I think if we lived in the same town, I would INSIST on hanging out with our respective anti-pottying children until well past bedtime....if, of course, you'll ignore my pseudo-anal neurotic tendencies....I swear i'm buckets of fun:)

Mandy said...

oh good, we let the kids give each other the pink eye back and forth we cant seem to get rid of over here - and fill your buckets with ice and beer;)

david mcmahon said...

Came here from Woman in a Window's blog.

You are a beautiful writer. And like you, I have wonderful times with my children.

Meredith said...

I've always panicked about how much sleep my daughter gets. I think it goes back to her newborn days when MY lack of sleep caused a near meltdown and I began to research sleep-training methods. I've just begun to give a little slack on bedtime so we can enjoy the summer nights. I long to be a laid-back mama who can just go with the flow without the constant worry about loss of routine hanging over my head.

Shrinky said...

Aw, from what I've just read, it seems to me your children are experiencing a blissful childhood. I love your writing (your description of almost being able to pinch a star between a finger and thumb is perfectly delicious).

Motherhood can be quite a ride, we don't always get to control where the tracks take us, but it rarely prevents us from trying. Smile

iheartchocolate said...

VERY nice to *meet* you, my fellow-chocolate-lovin-friend!

I love yours too, I would have NEVER thought of that, but it is genius!

beautiful writing and pictures!!

iheartchocolate said...

..wait, did someone say buckets of ice and beer?? I am SO there!

Sus said...

I have a feeling that it won't mean any less to you if I just say the same thing everyone else has said: that your writing is positively artful, poetic, meaningful, and intimate. And that I wish I lived next door to you and your bay and your family, and could learn to let go of my routine alongside you and your dying stars. Thanks for the burst of good writing this morning.

Cathy said...

Kate,your writing gives me goose bumps. It makes me wish I could do it all over again (parenthood), but instead I will look to the future as a Nonnie. I hope your friend Ryan will give us something soon to experience this with. Thanks for the smile this am.
Cousin Cathy

Laurie Rodak said...

Hey Kate!
This is the type of blog you want to tuck away to read on a cold winter day. I love the clever phrases robocop-granola mom and BWS. Thanks for sharing your memories with us, you're such a talented writer.

kimmyk said...

what a great read.
you painted a beautiful memory so eloquently. one i'm sure your children and y'all will remember in years to come.

thanks for dropping by. i'll be back to see you.

Jen said...

Thanks for stopping by the other day. Great to "meet" you.

Rima said...

I am very similar to you in this regard - I parent on a schedule, but sometimes, it's for selfish reasons. You've captured some precious sentiments very eloquently here!

Midwest Mom said...

Dear Kate,

You have captured the essence of our last month out here, too! There is something wonderful about sacrificing 'the routine' so you can dip into the deep well of the American Summer. Mine just started school today, so our late nights -- theoretically -- are past us for the year. We'll see how that works. (We have evening baseball tickets for Thursday... you can see how this will end up.) ;)

Thanks again for sharing your gift with us.

Kathryn said...

What a gorgeous post! Wow.
I turn in to that persnickity mom sometimes too. I'm learning how to shut her up this summer, but there are still times. Bedtimes are routinely broken around here (something that would normally send me into panic mode), but hey, it's summer!
Your 9 yr old knows that song??? I'm so impressed. :)

Madeline said...

Fabulous blog! So beautifully written. I think torturing oneself comes with the mom job. I don't know any moms who don't at some point fret over things that in the long run don't amount to a hill of beans. Anyway, I don't know how those supermoms (whoever they are) manage to stick to strict schedules.

womaninawindow said...

What a truly wonderful response your son gave you. Absolutely perfect. And so is this post. Funny how much I share with you, bedtime Natzi. I'm was just learning to let go about a week ago and now that the nights are beginning to tip the other way and school bags are on sale in stores, I'm already reigning them in again.

In your pictures your kids don't look like they're too upset about being up past 8:30...

Sandi McBride said...

What a lovely post. What a lovely mother you are...

MamaGeek said...

I have to second Rima's sentiments. Structured CAN be fun, right? Right. :)

Nicole Anderson-Wilder said...

This is best thing I've read...EVER.