4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Today was the last day of summer, Labor Day weekend, two days away from the start of school. In the morning I headed out alone to the beach with my paddle board, my paddle. As I pushed off from the shallows on my knees and climbed on, stretching in downward dog, the board turned and faced me towards shore. I returned to my knees and paddled forward out into the cove only to be turned back again, by the tide and the wind that had whipped up, out and back, out and back.
The day went on, me making overcooked banana blueberry pancakes, the kids swinging outside in bathing suits on the buoy swing while I packed a snacky lunch, watermelon, string cheese, nut bars, yogurt squeezers. I yelled for them to stop fighting, to get sunscreen and life vests and paddles. We headed to the beach and I wondered what this will be the summer of. It’s always hard to see from this close.
There was the summer Cabot was born which was the summer of all four kids in diapers. There was the summer when I had 2 kids on bicycles, two in the jog stroller. There were the summers of digging holes at the beach and setting a baby in each one to dig and splash in swim diapers. There were summers of afternoon naps for everyone, and then finally just for my youngest. There was the summer I walked to the water park every day, two infants in the stroller, a toddler in the shallows. There was the summer my oldest learned to kayak, where he’d head out into the cove on his own while I watched for glimpses of his yellow kayak in the distance between boats.
But what of this summer? What will mark this summer?
This is the summer they all swam confidently, when they all could ride their bikes 3 miles without flinching. It was the summer we first did lacrosse and field hockey, the summer I read them Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy and the Rats of NIMH, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, and awoke in the morning to find them quietly reading books about Minecraft and Speedracer to themselves or each other. That was a life changing first.
It was the summer of our first Sea Dogs game and Patriot’s preseason. The summer of playing Sorry with Joe the babysitter, Mica’s insistence on footy pajamas, the tooth fairy coming faithfully day after day (including the week she brought two $1 coins for two very gross whole fingernails). We still had play dates like we used to at beaches and pools, in backyards and basements, but the pace was different than when they were little, slower somehow and faster too, equally dependent on me, but not driven by me.
This was the summer where they sweetly watched out for each other, played imagination dress up games, endless games of Monopoly, cheered each other on, teamed up building fairy houses. It was the summer where they’d lash out at each other with nails bared, fists clenched, on the drop of a dime with hardly any observable provocation.
My youngest suddenly wasn’t a baby at all, and my oldest felt more distantly boyish than I could ever have imagined. It was the summer the older son and daughter always chose their father’s hands to hold while the youngers always chose me, but still we went for long walks to the cliffs or the ocean holding each other’s hands. It was the summer I said things like, “I can’t stand when you undo what I do!” and “Why do you always pull backwards when we walk?” and “No one listens to me!” It was the summer when they still sat on my lap, curled into my arms at the beach sitting between my legs on the chaise so that I could bury my face in their hair, which always smelled vaguely of sour apple shampoo and wet dog and sunscreen and saltwater.
I don’t know which of these things will be the most specific to this summer. What will we look back to mark right now? And what will change so precipitously in the next year that these new seemingly standard things will seem far away.
Because whatever the changes, I can guarantee that I will not always be packing a bag with four towels, watermelon slices and water bottles, yelling at them all to put on their sunscreen, find their water shoes. I have no idea how things changed from last year or five years ago to now and how exactly they will change to the next iteration of me and them, them and me.
Someday they will be off doing jobs or settling into college or away with friends, and perhaps my husband and I will go to the ocean alone on Labor Day weekend, sitting and drinking our civilized glasses of wine, hitting restaurants, writing in sweet blessed peace. But it kills me to picture: the dock sitting empty, me alone on the beach, no one tugging on my arms as I walk, no one scurrying into our bathroom as I feign sleep then calling softly to me, “WMB, Mama,” (wipe my butt) as I lay with eyes closed, so hungry for another half hour of sleep.
I simply can’t let go of this thought that runs on a loop in my head, that they were so little so recently, that they can’t possibly grow and change any more than they already have, can they? It’s hard when you’re in the thick of it to see what matters, where the changes will happen first. And I can’t stand the thought that I’ve let any of it slip away unmourned, thoughtlessly, that there is a future whipping towards me at breakneck speed that I will suddenly find myself transported to, as if I’ve fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole, falling, falling, falling, towards their adulthoods.
I’m looking forward out into the cove on my paddle board, then spinning back towards the beach, back and forth. I’m on my knees, grabbing for my paddle.
Just stand up, I remind myself. Just stand up and push your way out towards the horizon. It’s all we can do.