Monday, August 10, 2009

Preemptive Nostalgia

I believe I have mentioned before that Emily seems to develop in sudden leaps vs. gradually. Perhaps I think this because it is easier to observe the developmental leaps than the gradual changes that are, inevitably also taking place. But as many times as I make this observation, I am still always surprised when another one comes along, mostly because it seems the leaps themselves get bigger each time.

For example, in the past 2 weeks alone, Emily has started sleeping in a big girl bed. Naps are still iffy, but she's a champ at going to sleep and sleeping through the night. In the last WEEK, Emily has blasted through potty training 101 and is now practically an expert. For several days in a row now, she has not had a single accident, even if we're out of the house and she has to use the potty at a store or at church, except for her afternoon poop which is always an accident, and usually a comical one. But other than that one time each day, she will TELL me she has to pee, and run to the potty, without bribes or sticker charts or anything more than a high five and praise when she's done. I have no doubt we'll experience a regression or two, and we're a long way from getting through the night without diapers, but for now I'm pinching myself and hoping karma will not deliver me a 4-year old Zippy who still wears diapers to make up for my luck with Emily.

Add to this already impressive list of recent accomplishments the fact that she just learned to drink from a cup, and will now SWIM (like legs kicking, arms reaching, body moving towards the wall and everything) in the baby pool with her water wings on, not to mention all the tiny little improvements in her speech that you would only really notice or care about if you spent every day with her, and my head is spinning trying to keep up. Or maybe it's just the heat, which makes this pregnant lady feel like passing out the second I step outdoors. I know I am super-lucky because it has been a mild summer, and I am not SUPER pregnant, and I have air conditioning and don't live in Florida, but still I feel awful and I hate feeling so delicate.

But back to my original point, WOW Emily!

The thing is, I am nothing but excited and proud. And for some reason that confuses me. Shouldn't her accomplishments be bittersweet for me? I hear so many moms celebrating but also lamenting their toddlers' milestones, coupling statements like "Junior learned to open doors by himself today" with "Whatever happened to my little baby?" I remember when Emily was tiny, when she was just a small but solid weight in my arms and I spent my time cooing at her and marveling at how pink and fat and round human feet look before they've been used, but I also remember that taking care of a baby is grueling, painful, self-sacrificing and thankless work. I often felt that I was just putting milk into and cleaning used milk off of her until she turned into a real person, because teeny babies are basically eating, pooping, crying machines with very little personality. We love them because we are hard-wired to love them. Because they are OURS, and they need us, and because of the promise of a personality to come. If we care for them, they will eventually turn into real boys and girls, no Blue Fairy needed.

So now Emily is turning into a real person. Instead of feeling nostalgic, I am kind of feeling like my hard work is paying off. She's becoming someone who can talk to me, someone who is very much like every other two-year old out there, but of course also infinitely better. THIS is Emily now, how can I wish to go back in time to when parts of who she IS weren't there? I think back to the first time she ate rice cereal, the first time she crawled, her first steps, and I really don't feel much nostalgia. I look back at her pictures and I marvel at how much she's changed, but I don't really MISS the baby she used to be.

I wonder why? Is it because I have another baby coming soon and I know I will get another chance to carry around and care for a wide-eyed little person again? Is my blind urge to reproduce almost spent and now I can see things more from Will's "Babies are cute, but I prefer a kid who I can actually interact with any day" point of view?

I'm sure that when Emily is a tempestuous, door-slamming teenager I will feel like I would gladly clean up a few stray poops and spend 20 minutes walking 10 ft to my car while we step in every hole and point at every blade of grass if it means snuggles on demand and a heart-melting "wuv mommy" every now and then, like I enjoy now. Is the age vs. funness level of a kid a bell curve? Will she be at her most fun and sweet and personable when she's 9 and then descend back into "I'm just feeding this self-centered thing until it goes away to college" territory?

The sad part is, I think that probably is what happens. Kids naturally get more annoying so that we don't miss them as much when they inevitably fly the coop. And thinking of being away from Emily for a whole week just about kills me now, so I guess things HAVE to change or else I'll never be able to leave her at school or travel to any of the places I have yet to see.

So instead of real nostalgia, I am experiencing preemptive nostalgia. So many people have told me to enjoy these years because they go by so fast, so I figure I'd better listen. I think to myself every day "Soak it up now, because one day you'll miss it". So maybe I HAVE been soaking it up enough that I don't miss it looking back. I hope that's the case.

Or maybe it's just that she's still only 2, just barely not a baby anymore, and I still get to spend all day every day with her. The thought of sending her off to preschool next year with a backpack and a lunch box brings tears to my eyes, but then again so did the thought of ever letting my stationary lump of a 6 month old walk out of my arms and across the hard floor into a world full of sharp coffee table edges and electrical wires. Maybe if I concentrate hard on enjoying every minute I will be able to hang onto my feeling of "Yeah, it was nice back then but there were downsides too and now it is so much better."

Or maybe this lack of nostalgia itself is something I should concentrate on and enjoy while it lasts because in a couple days I'll be sitting at her high school graduation sobbing with the best of them over whatever happened to my sweet little 2 year old.

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