Time and Living to Improve the Dash

If you read this blog much, you might be wondering just what the heck is up with all these dang-blame “time” posts. You might be worried I’ve got myself caught up in some timey-whimey-wibbly-wobbly time-space continum of doom and cannot for the life of myself un-time-stick myself.

You’d be right.

Especially if you’ve noticed that when something is bugging me, I’m most likely to approach it sideways with my eyes squished shut. This has been a long-standing approach of mine. As a child, I didn’t ask for a second cookie, I raved about how scrumptious they were. If it didn’t work, I’d start complimenting the baker on how fetching her/his hairstyle was that day. It’s the passive-aggressive person’s approach to problem solving. It’s worked to some extent all these years, why change now? Aside from boring my readers to tears, of course.

So what precisely is bugging me to the extent my knickers are not only bunching but knotted? A while back I ran across a blog post about chronos time versus kairos time and the experience of receiving unsolicited advice as a parent. Specifically about receiving the advice to relish these fleeting moments of our children’s lives. Those blithe statements to enjoy this moment because he/she/they/it will grow up before you know it, yada yada yada. That kind of advice. So I read the post and a few of the comments and then I had to put it away. I had to walk away because I needed to chew on it for a bit, like how a dog worries a piece of gristle.

I had to worry on it because I know I’ve dispensed some variety of such advice and suddenly I had the horrid fear that there were people sitting in parking lots cursing me and my pathetic motherly existence. And if you’ve read this blog for more than a sentence or two, you have probably picked up on the fact that I’ve got more issues than Newsweek, the first of which being a lack of self-esteem.

Never would I dream of upsetting a parent by inferring they need to appreciate the day-to-day intricacies of parenting more. And yet, had I? Even more to the point, should I do it again?

It’s been 11 years and 8 months and 6 days since a screaming inhalation made me a mother. And those 11 years, 8 months and 6 days have passed in a way Doctor Who is surely proud of…both extraordinarily fast and painfully slow. To be more clear, the good parts have hurtled past me so fast it was like watching 1983 Hollywood special effects. And the bad parts? Not only interminably slow but on repeat, showing me the darkest moments of my parenting life over and over again.

Because that is how time can be for us. It is elastic and capricious. And nothing we can control. But what we so easily regret.

So all those grandma types, telling you to enjoy your little angel because in no time she’ll be all grown up and gone…they are really warning you to live this life with less regret. To parent with less regret. To be..with less regret.

I had lunch with a friend who has an infant. I told her about one of my greatest parenting regrets. We both chuckled over my parenting psychosis of sorts, but it so clearly represents a huge aspect of who I am and therefore who I am as a parent, that my chuckle was a bit heavy on the self-conscious side. This is the story I told her.

I regret not letting my babies be naked enough.

When Biggest was born, I was admitted on a perfect spring day and discharged three days later to 100+ heat. Minnesota can be wacky like that. But our air conditioner was a bit flummoxed by the heat wave and died. Right when we needed it most. So Mister Soandso and I brought Biggest home and after walking in the front door we just kept going on down to the basement. The next day, after changing one of those freakish new-born diapers, I sat in the rocking chair, put him up to my shoulder and proceeded to pat his naked and down-covered little back. What was supposed to happen is he would burp up all that noxious gas making him a crabby-pants. Instead what occurred was a loud slapping noise.

Now, before you get the DHS on speed-dial, let me assure you, the noise was only loud in my head. But it was so loud in my imagination, it freaked me out. And into his onesie he went. That kid wore a onesie/tee-shirt until he got old enough I could no longer ignore his protests. Talk about one of those crazy-mom-badge moments. But what was really crazy is that Middlest was a onesie wearer as well. I rationalized that since snow flew only weeks after her birth, she needed that extra layer to keep her warm. In reality, what I was layering my babies against was any stray chance I might hurt them in my new-parent idiocy as well as paranoia.

So when Littlest came into my life, my surprise baby, I promised myself I would let him be naked more. I would set aside my fears that I was actually hurting him when I patted him on his bare back. I would suck every mom-bliss moment dry since I would never have another baby.

And I did better. Not a lot better, but better. I coaxed myself to not flinch, to trust in myself as a mom. To not regret any part of being the mother of a tiny, sickly, screaming and never sleeping infant.

Yeah, I was pretty insane. If I could go back to that day 11 years, 8 months and 6 days ago, I would bring home Biggest, take him out of that photo-perfect outfit, and lay his naked but for a diaper on my naked but for a tres chic nursing bra chest. And I would soak up every second of that moment. But I can’t. And I so regret that.

I regret that in the years and months and days between becoming a parent and being the parent I am today, there were so many instances where if only I could have just got out of my own way, the way would have been so much more than it was. How many times do we all do that? Get in our way. Lots. At least that’s what I feel like some days.

Someday, I assume, all that will be left of me is the memories people have of me and a hunk of metal somewhere. On that metal will be my name, the date I was born and the date I died and in between those dates will be a dash.

The dash is where all the good stuff is–hidden in the simplicity of a small, thin line. All my good times and not so good times. All the times I danced around my kitchen and squirted whipped cream into my kiddos’ open mouths. All the times I pulled them onto my lap and asked them about their days. All of those moments…the moments I usually forget. Because what I more easily remember are the times I’ve yelled over socks balled up on the living floor, or toothpaste chunks in the sink, or vomit in my hair. Those are the moments I regretfully remember most easily. Sure they are in that dash as well. But they are not the dash in its entirety. Not by a long shot.

The dash must be made of the good and the bad. For without one, the other does not fully exist.

And I think that that is why those sweet grandmothers and parents of not-so-little-anymore kids caution parents to enjoy these moments with their small children. Parenting, being a relationship, is made of all the realities of co-existing with someone. And too often what we focus on during the act, is the negative and in hind-sight is the positive. We are so close to the action at the moment that it is hard to see the experience fully. Which, of course, changes how we look back upon it.

The dash requires both. And a dash with less regret is the best.

So I think I may have finally found my way around this “beginning of the new year and slightly obsessed with time” place I have been of late.  I think I have finally put my finger on my worry for this year–this year my children have reached milestones before I was ready for them to get there. I have finally recognized how much I regret that in the fullness of parenting, it seems impossible to experience it all.

And yet, that glorious dash provides testimony of life’s full experience.

May this day, and all the others, fill each and every one of you with experiences full and rich. And absolutely free of regret.

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5 thoughts on “Time and Living to Improve the Dash

  1. It’s true that time is capricious, and that we need to live life to the full. I look at my eldest (8) and think, where did the time go? How could I have not held onto every single moment of babyhood? But part of his babyhood included, of course, having another baby… and a third. In amidst regretting not grabbing every single second of my elder children’s baby years, I’m looking at Tinywee thinking, ‘Please, go to sleeeep!’ Because, in the actual baby years, by the time you get to 10pm, you’ve been awake about 18 hours, during which time you’ve been carrying/bouncing/singing/wiping about 16 hours. Plus, as often as not, you’ve needed the loo for a day and a half and haven’t eaten anything containing lumps since 7am.
    Having said that, if I could have my time again, I’d have ten. Kids rule.

  2. Time, Time, Time…someting, somthing, somthing-Simon & Garfunkel, Hazy Shade of Winter, & yes, that memory is from when that song was new, in the Pre-dawn of the Modern Age, or Paleolithic Era, Blah, Blah, Blah Middle Age Man, Crusty Old Fart, etc., etc., etc.

    I Try to Never tell those “Babies with babies” to savor the moments. I tell them “Take Waaay more pictures”.

    As we’ve hit upon before here I share your fascination with the phenomena of time. It’s that whole Perception vs Reality thing again.
    I’m still trying to make peace with Past, Present & Future.
    This is another fine and insightful post.

    Thanks, Kristina

  3. I keep trying to leave a thoughtful remark but ironically, my three littles won’t leave me alone long enough to type it, so at a minimum, I wanted to say I connected with what you wrote and loved it!

  4. Huh. Probably not a good time for me to read a post like this. My youngest just moved out, and my nest is officially empty. *sniffle* I’m allowing myself a short time to feel weepy and sentimental, but honestly? It feels really good to have reached this point.

    By nature I’m a live-in-the-present kind of person, not dwelling over-much on the past or worrying myself to distraction about the future. Can’t help the brief mental visits to past and future, but whenever I stay too long there, I feel like I’m robbing the “now.” And one of the things I don’t want to do in my future “present” is regret that I spent too much time dwelling and worrying while I was in this present.

    Convoluted enough for you? *grin*

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