At a family gathering, I watched my one year old niece methodically take things out of a box and then put them back in. “Ball!” she would smile manically as she took one from the box. “Ball!” she would grin as she put it back in the box. She kept busy like this for some time, occasionally switching things up by grabbing hold of an Elmo book and happily shoving it into her mouth.
I had forgotten what that age is like. In my mind, when I thought of my own children at that age, I remembered exhaustion, isolation and the overwhelming daily life of having two children under age two. I remembered taking thirty minutes just to make the trip from the house to the garage; packing gigantic bags full of snacks, sippy cups, blankets, toys, and different sizes of diapers only to realize, too late, that I had forgotten the pacifiers. But I didn’t remember the excitement of watching a little one explore the world. I didn’t remember the pure joy of watching them play.
Years ago, I would occasionally bump into a woman who I knew only casually, but who would respond to questions with barely repressed vitriol regarding her child’s age and the stage he was at. “Terrible twos? More like the terrible eighteen months!” she told me when we first met. After that it really was the terrible twos, then “I thought two was bad – wait until age three! Three year olds are awful! And I hear four is even worse!”
I can’t help but wonder what stage they are in now. Eight year olds and their backtalk? To be followed by tween mood swings, teenage angst, and crashing-the-car college years? I can just imagine the conversation, twenty years from now: “Ugh, he’s twenty eight and it’s just the worst age! He never calls.”
I try always to be positive and upbeat about my children and the various stages they are going through. Yes, my seven year old talks constantly and asks questions incessantly, but his curiosity about the natural world and Canadian wild animals is astounding. (It is also unwittingly hilarious when he asks about the habitats of cougars and comments on the fluffy cuteness of beavers.)
Yes, my six year old may walk to school at a snail’s pace, but his slow steps allow him to discover interesting things about the neighbourhood that would be missed at a brisker speed. When his eyes open wide at the sight of a ladybug on a leaf, or a squirrel in the tree, it truly is magical. And yet I had forgotten the little joys of baby- and toddler-hood. I had forgotten the discoveries, the newly-toothy grins, the warmth of a little one curled up asleep on my lap. In its place were memories of sleep deprivation, of teething, of the feeling of being a ship with barnacles attached to it.
And so when my big boys are home from school tonight, I will cuddle with them on the couch, and ask about their day, and I will try to remember this, these happy days, always.