I am behind on writing and posting your eight-month letter, as I have been behind on everything this past month. Your papa and I have been late or not caught up on just about every task and project this month.
And you know what? It’s completely intentional, for once.
I realized, in this last month, we needed to slow down. Everyone needs that reminder, once in a while. It’s so easy to get caught up in our long, long lists of things we need to accomplish, never-ending tasks that we cycle through over and over again. We get so engrossed in obligation and duty and responsibility. We are trick ponies, making our jumps and running the course, aiming to do everything as quickly and neatly as possible.
But – it’s impossible. The course is never done, our lives never stop being busy and requiring so much of us. We can push and push and push ourselves, but there’s no magical day when the laundry stops being dirty and then clean and then needing to be put away. There’s no day that we won’t need groceries or gas or to mow the lawn. It keeps coming, and the more we rush, the less we are living; the more we are becoming robotic – the more we are missing the point of living by trying so hard to cross things off our to-do lists.
To live is to feel life, is to find empty spaces in between the Must Dos, and take advantage of that space, that time. To take advantage of those empty spaces and push at our boundaries, to allow ourselves to be still in those moments and not hassle ourselves to fill them with another activity, another responsibility.
Your papa and I were caught up in that whirlwind of go-go-go, do-do-do. I (as usual) was mostly to blame as I tend to chart my success in life based on how much I’ve accomplished each day. It’s as if I need a concrete list to prove to myself that I’ve done enough, been the best person I could.
It took me a little while to realize it – but our evenings started to feel so rushed. We were in a hurry, your papa and I, and we were rushing you. I didn’t realize it until I was journaling one evening – your papa was at work, you were asleep in your bed, and I had a few minutes to sit and think and write out my thoughts.
I thought about how our evenings had been going, lately. I’d come home from working all day – and workdays are always a rush, to get out the door in the morning, to get as much done at work as I can, to nurse you and eat myself on lunch and get back to the office on time. And I didn’t slow down once I got back to the house. I’d brush in the door and immediately, your papa and I set to our tasks: putting the pumped milk away, washing the bottles from the day, nursing you your first evening snack. And then we were off again, plopping you in your exosaucer or your bumpo so your papa could start dinner and I could shower, switch over the laundry, fold the laundry, sort the mail, sweep the floors or whatever small chore I could squeeze in. You started to get fussy as we sat down to eat, and it usually ended up that one of us ate while the other pacified you, or I nursed you, and then we’d switch, me eating while your papa got you ready for bed. Every night, you approached your bedtime on a nearly drained battery, you were tired, you were rushed – we were tired, we were rushed. It was work to get you to nurse the last time, it was work to get you in pajamas and swaddled, it took a long time to get you soothed and ready to sleep.
We were rushing you, I realized, and none of us were enjoying it. I felt like I barely had any good, present time with you during the week. Sometimes I felt more like your wet nurse than your mother. I found myself missing you even more than usual. So on that night I was journaling, as I was freewriting, I found myself realizing how much we pushed ourselves, how much we pushed you. How much we were skating through the days in an effort to get – somewhere – as quickly as possible.
We were missing the point of living, and we were missing all the beauty of having a precious babe under a year old. We turned every single day into tasks, and didn’t just let the day happen, didn’t let it unfold as it would.
So – we resolved to slow down. I made myself stopping pushing myself and your papa to get as much done as possible after work. Sure, we tidy, we clean up after ourselves – but we do a grand sweep restoring things to rights. We don’t hammer out as much as we can while you watch from a high chair nearby. The laundry, I kept reminding myself, was always going to get dirty again, always need to be washed and dried and folded and put away again. It could live in laundry baskets for an undetermined amount of time. I didn’t have to ruin what little free time I got with you, what little free time I got with your papa after you went to bed, stressing myself and exhausting myself to make sure it was done just to prove – what, exactly? That I was a better wife and a better mother? Would I really be proving that at all?
We started focusing on you, in the evenings, and each other. We started to put a higher value on family time, and less worth into those little benchmarks of success that don’t really mean anything at all. And it was amazing how quickly we noticed a change for the better.
You are always a happy and cheerful baby, you always do your best to be cheerful until you’re just too tired or too hungry to stand it anymore. But when we started slowing down, we realized that evening period that can be so difficult for parents and children alike became a whole lot easier. Your witching hour wasn’t so bewitched. Not perfect, certainly – but wow, what a change it made when we stopped just pacifying you with toys and a seat that contained you. Now I come home, and I sneak in to where your papa is playing with you or reading to you, and I pop up and surprise you, and oh goodness, how good does it feel to see your face suddenly break into the widest, biggest grin when you realize it’s me.
We take our time now, I nurse you without rushing while your papa takes his time putting the milk away and washing the bottles. We take time to walk, if we can, you in your stroller, the breeze fluffing up your long baby hair, kicking your little legs with delight. Or we sit outside on the porch, you on a quilt under the awning, slapping at puddles with your chubby hands. Your papa and I share you, passing you back and forth to get cuddles and slobbery kisses, to let you pat-pat-pat at our chests in that way that shows you’re really pleased with something. He and I get the chance to actually talk, about our days and our feelings and our ideas, and all the cute little things you do – instead of only communicating in short bursts, checking in to see what needs to happen next, what’s our plan, who’s got Baby now.
It’s so much better, this way. Some nights, we order pizza just because we don’t want to spend an hour and a half cooking, and then eating, and then cleaning up after. Some nights, I just want your papa to be able to sit in the den with us, let us all three be together as we tickle you or toss you in the air, or help you pet kitty gently. And on nights we do fix dinner, I don’t make myself find tasks to balance out the work your papa is doing – we join him in the kitchen, you on my hip, or we spread out a blanket in the floor and play, we listen to David Bowie and Raffi and Queen and Disney, and I help your papa pop the can of biscuits, I tidy up after him, we make it a team effort.
And sure, some nights, we do have to be productive. Some nights, I do have to actually remember the laundry exists. Some nights, we do have to do yard work, and plop you on your blanket and pick up sticks in between efforts to pull the pine needles you so desperately want to eat out of your mouth and your hands. But the busy nights, the nights we go visiting or to the store – they’re easier to bear, knowing that at least a few other nights in the week, we’re going to focus on us as a family, and nothing else.
I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again, and every other parent I know has said it to me time and time again – it goes by so quickly. We were at Baby Lucy’s first birthday party the other weekend, and instead of seeming some far off day, in the future but not anytime soon – I realized, if you’re eight months, your own first birthday is just in four months – four months that I know will fly by, because each and every month, we arrive at your new month birthday, and I’m astonished we’re here already. How did you already turn six months, much less seven, much less eight?
I don’t want to miss it. I know we have a lifetime with you, and I can’t wait to see your ungainly toddler self trotting across the yard trying to keep up with your papa. I can’t wait to hear your lisping baby voice talking, like Baby Jude does to you now, “Baby! Baby! Hiiiii baby!” to the smaller, younger babies who will be born this fall. I can’t wait to take you to your first dance class, and watch you trail after Norah and Jack and Jude and Lucy and Viv and Cathy and Teegan on the playground. (<3 <3 <3) But already, I miss you, my baby. Already, I know that this first year is so special because it is so fast.
The other night, your papa put on Mamma Mia on TV, a musical that he miraculously had seen, when I had not. It was near bedtime, we had finished dinner, and nursed and had a bottle, and you were in your swaddle, and it was one of those nights were we’d maybe been a little busier, and you were a little more exhausted and a little more keyed up because of it. Once, twice, your papa tried to put you down, and after the second time, I took my turn bouncing you to sleep.
On the TV, on Mamma Mia – another song came on, Meryl Streep helped Amanda Seyfried get ready for her wedding day. She watched her brush her hair in the mirror, she arranged her flowers. She held her movie daughter in her lap and painted her toe nails, as if she were a child and not an adult. She helped her dress and they all processed up to the ceremony site. And Meryl Streep smiled, but she still looked sad. It was only a movie, but the emotions were so clear – I couldn’t even hear the words completely, the volume down low, but the tone was so obvious – I watched this mother watch her daughter grow up, and wonder how she’d possibly gotten so big, how she wasn’t her baby anymore.
The lights were dim in the room were I bounced you. Your chubby cheeks were rosy, your eyelashes long. You were warm and heavy in my arms. I started crying. Like, a lot, not a little. Your papa chuckled gently at me – he’s seen this scene a hundred times before, already. Your mama is an emotional, nostalgic woman. But I saw on that movie on the television everything that I already – already – feel in my heart – even though you are only eight months, even though your milestones are only sitting up and grasping, not getting married.
On your wedding day or your graduation day, or whatever nameless important day in the future when you are grown beyond belief – I don’t want to look back and think, man, my laundry sure was never in the baskets for more than a few hours. I don’t want to think, well, at least the yard was always pristine. There was never dust on the windowsill and the bathroom fixtures were immaculate. I want to think, I love how many afternoons we spent holding you under thick, fragrant pine boughs, your papa gently shaking them so you could watch the sunlight shift through them, the shadows dappling your chubby cheeks. I want to think, I know exactly how she looked and exactly how she smelled and exactly how she sounded, every day for so many weeks and so many months. I want to have every moment of you imprinted on my heart, and not a task list full of items checked off.
So, your letter is late this month, my darling. I doubt you, Ariadne Grey, at 8 months have any concept of what Mama writes, and how often, and when it’s finished and when it’s posted. I do it for me, right now, because it’s important to me to write to you, in this first year of your life. I want to write how I feel currently, when you were three months or five months or seven, and not what I remember feeling, months later. I do it to make sure it gets done, and I do it with the knowledge or at least the hope that one day these will be important to you. And so this month, I want you to know two things – first, that you were so very important to us – are so very important to us. That sometimes we need reminders to put being with you instead of just about you at the top of our lists – but it always is. And second – you, Ari, older, reading this and capable of understanding – don’t you rush through life either. Don’t make haste to achieve so many tangible things that you forget about the intangible joys, the very simple but necessary time spent together simply being together, and reveling in that stolen moment of freedom.
All my love,