Last week, my family and I took care of the children of some friends who were out of town for vacation. At ages 4 and 2, these kids are about as adorable as they come. But about one day into my stint as their caretaker, I realized something: I used to be a very different mom than the one I am now.
When I was a young mom with young kids, I had a different kind of zeal and energy. I did more, tried harder and worried about things like benchmarks and milestones. Now, I’m a lazier, slightly wiser version of my former self, kind of like a seasoned summer camp counselor who knows it’s time to come up with a group cheer but instead is like, “Nah, we’re not doing that. But I brought this huge bag of gummy bears. Anybody want some?”
Former me used to cut sandwiches into delightful shapes to serve to my children for lunch. I donned a swimsuit every Tuesday at 10 a.m. so I could participate in a “Mommy and Me” swim class with my baby at the local YMCA.
I pureed vegetables and snuck them into everything from spaghetti sauce to grilled cheese sandwiches. I became adept at maneuvering a stick-shift through the streets of Seattle while simultaneously contorting my body so I could hold a pacifier in the mouth of a screaming infant in the backseat.
I used to live for the hours between 1 and 3 in the afternoon, when any and all babies and toddlers would go down for a nap or quiet time. This was time I guarded jealously, knowing that if I didn’t enjoy those precious two hours, I would literally have no time to myself.
Time from the moment the first kid woke up in the morning until the last kid came out of her room for the eleventy-millionth time at night to ask for a drink of water or to use the potty or to say her finger hurt and also she just smeared Vaseline all over her walls.
I am not that mom anymore. My younger kids are getting a completely different version of me than my older kids got, and sometimes that makes me sad. I don’t know that one version is better than the other; they’re just different.
These days, I’m juggling teenagers, middle schoolers and elementary-age kids. The alone time I previously had to hoard during nap time can now be scattered more comfortably throughout the day. I don’t try to hide vegetables anymore; a veggie is a veggie, and if you don’t like it, just plug your nose while you choke it down, or you won’t get any dessert.
The hyperattention I paid to my first three kids is now furnished in part by a cast of siblings who can entertain and annoy each other with equal dexterity. I was talking to my mom about my recent descent into young-children-hood, and she told me that when my brothers and I were young, there were two things she actively tried to do to:
First, she would try to “be at the crossroads” of our days: getting us off to school, being there when we arrived back home, gathering us together for dinnertime, tucking us in at night. Being at all these crossroads wasn’t always possible or advisable, of course. I’m guessing that if she’d been at every single crossroad, she would have eventually tied us up and left us on the tracks. But hearing that she made the effort made me want to try a little harder to do it myself.
Second, she figured that her kids were much more likely to open up to her if they sensed that she had all the time in the world to just be with them. So, when she knew we were about to walk in the door after school, she would put down whatever project she was working on and instead act like she was just having a relaxing afternoon: leafing through a magazine, reading the newspaper, enjoying a snack, whatever.
“All it takes is 10 minutes,” she told me. “Act like you’ve got nothing going on for 10 minutes, and your kids will start talking.” A revelation, and something I want to try. Maybe you can teach an old mom new tricks after all.
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.