Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Well, I Guess This Is Growing Up*

(*Thanks, Blink 182. Now that song is stuck in my head.)

Spring is here and it's supposed to be full of new life. So why do I feel so old? Oh yeah, because I am

This weekend was Bee's nursery school's spring fair. It's quite an affair that involves weeks and weeks of preparation. We were all asked to donate items to the rummage sale, bake and cook for the food tables, and volunteer to work shifts at the event itself. Between Johnny's 8 am shift setting up tables, chairs, games, rides, and booths, my early morning baking and frosting cupcakes with Bee, and my lunchtime shift selling tickets to Upper West Side moms and kids with fists full of cash while Johnny took the girls to the bouncy castles, the spin art, the ring toss, the face painting and more, we had some time to reflect on how we got where we are now. 

Exactly a year ago, Bee was 27 months old and we were not even thinking about nursery school. I was a new mom of two and I felt lost. We were still newish to our neighborhood and had no idea how to make friends for ourselves, much less for Bee. A high school classmate of mine was a lifesaver. A mutual friend re-introduced us because we didn't live far from each other. Her kids are a little bit older but those two years difference made her seem so knowledgeable and experienced to me. She invited us over for play dates, introduced me to other moms at the playground, taught me what to expect from my daughters as they got older. Incidentally, she was also the first person who said the words "Early Intervention" to me when I pointed out how, at eight months, Teeny was still not sitting up. Though I was immediately sick with fear when she said it, that she had the courage to was pretty incredible, and I will always be grateful. 

Exactly a year ago, this friend suggested we join her at this school fair. It's a fun day, she said. We loaded up the kids, walked across town, and met her family by the games and art tables. Bee wanted to do the face painting for the first time in her life, so she sat very still in my lap while one of the dads gave her a purple butterfly on her cheekMeanwhile, my friend ran into a handful of other moms she knew and it was clear their kids knew each other and I felt like it was a club I was definitely not a part of.

I got a really nice vibe from the school that hosted the fair. I went home and checked it out online, suddenly worried that I'd made the wrong decision when I hadn't bothered with nursery school for Bee. We'd thought she was too young when the admissions process began the September before, but she grew quickly and I now felt she would be ready. I called them the next Monday and learned that they had a space. We went in to meet with the director and to take a tour. We loved it. And just like that, without engaging in an iota of the insane application process, Bee was in nursery school.

So last weekend, I was remembering all that as I chatted with other parents of kids in Bee's class. I worked the ticket booth like I'd been doing it all my life, taking people's money so their kids could do the face painting and play the games and ride the rides like we did last year, volunteering my time and efforts happily to earn money for the school so my kid can benefit from the financial aid that makes it possible for her to attend. A year later and it's a whole different world. I came up with six ways life is markedly different now from just one year ago.

1. I look 40. Parenthood has aged me more in the last couple of years than life did in the 37 years I lived prior to becoming a parent. Physically, I am different. My hair is grayer (which really means only that I dye it more). My body has changed. I have a permanent muffin top (or maybe a permanent unwillingness to do sit ups and pushups every day to get rid of it). My boobs are flatter. I'm still nursing, but the 38EE bras I bought when Teeny was born now slip on and off like camisoles. I went to get fitted and wouldn't you know, I'm back to a 34A. I have wrinkles now, and to keep them from getting worse, I put on lavender face cream at night so I even smell old. My eyes are deteriorating slowly. I wear glasses for distance, but recently I was doing cross-stitching while watching a movie and I had such a headache from looking down that I thought to myself bifocals would really help with this and then I thought who is this old person in my head thinking old people thoughts about bifocals? Hard to believe it could be me. But I can't deny it anymore; the cat is out of the bag about my age. When I'm buying a sixpack for my husband while food shopping at Trader Joe's, the cashier no longer cards me. Suddenly I am a target for online coupons for kitchen appliances, mortgage lenders and diamond jewelry, AARP newsletters, even cemetery plot advertisements. That last one would be funny if it weren't so horrifying. Careless and sometimes downright reckless in the first half of my life, every second of this second and final half is precious to me. I don't want to think about how this is a one-way journey.

2. I feel 40. My body is tired. I am used to working myself hard, but I am losing my mental elasticity. My brain hurts. Because the girls are getting older, I am sleeping somewhat better, but it's still not enough. I am still running and biking a few times a week, but it's harder. I can't be worried about improving my time because I'm just not going faster. My everyday look has come down a notch.  I go to work in flats (frequent) or worse, in sneakers (even more frequent). I have adopted the underslept Manhattan mama look of yoga pants and a pony tail, and find some solace in knowing that my tattoos and what's left of my attitude still set me apart from the others. 

3. I am done with babies. At 40, I've entered a new chapter of my reproductive story. I went to the gynecologist a few weeks ago to ask why I hadn't gotten my period back yet. I got it five months after Bee was born, so after 20 months post-Teeny, I was getting worried. The doctor worried me even more when she asked if I was getting hot flashes. (I am not!) I finally got my period a week later. That is, I think I did. When I saw it, I felt like I did when I was 12. Shocked. Excited. Nervous. And annoyed. It had been two and a half years since my last period - before conceiving Teeny. I forgot all about what cramps felt like, what havoc it wreaked on my emotions and my energy (to say nothing of my appetite). I was completely unprepared. I had long since stopped carrying an emergency tampon around so I had to resort to wadded up toilet paper. But then a day later it was gone, which left me wondering if I even got it at all. Maybe it was just spotting. Most different of all, that this means I'm not pregnant thought, at times in my life a relief and at other times a source of dismay, was only a fleeting one, mainly because it was immediately followed by Oh right. Paragard. Which was then followed by a twinge of sadness. Not that I want to have more kids. I don't. But my childbearing years are behind me and that's a weird feeling. 

At the fair last year, I was wearing an infant and carrying a toddler. I had big dreams for my kids. I didn't yet know about Teeny's issues. I was in up to my ears just juggling two under two and my whole life was about babies, babies, babies. Now, at the same time as I was throwing away the humungous nursing bras, I packed up a bunch of baby stuff to pass on to younger, newer mothers. I gave away a big bag of pregnancy and nursing books. We donated the glider and many of the baby carriers. We swapped the Moby and the mei tai for a Boba, a toddler carrier, and a new Maclaren umbrella stroller. We taught Teeny to drink from a straw, so I tossed a lot of the bottles and nipples and stocked up on new sippy cups. The pumps are gone and I do not miss them.  And best of all, Johnny and I both breathed a sigh of relief when we confessed to each other that we were done with cloth diapering. Together, we threw out every last Bum Genius. Three years of washing our daughters' shitty diapers every single day was plenty and even though neither of them is potty trained yet, we couldn't stand it another second. 

4. The girls are growing up. These days Teeny is into cleaning. She picks up burp cloths and pretends to wipe the table, her mouth, her nose. She has a fairly impressive attention span, probably because she isn't yet walking. Instead of baby toys or plushies, we buy her art supplies, toy cars, tea sets, and colorful things with buttons to press, tags to pull and other nooks and crannies to explore. You can plunk her down and she'll stay for a while, playing by herself, investigating, learning. 

Bee is maturing in ways that surprise me. We try to talk in as unbiased a way about gender and sexuality that we know how. We want her to come to her own conclusions about her own gender and sexuality but it's hard to know what that looks like for a three-year-old. She seems to grasp the concept of gender in an innate sort of way, and I find myself wondering what assumptions I bring to the conversations that she picks up on. She knows that mama is a girl and daddy is a boy, but she doesn't quite know why. She just knows. She knows who of her friends are girls and who are boys, but when pressed, she cannot state the difference between boys and girls even though she knows that boys and girls have different body parts and that mamas are girls and mamas make milk but boys do not. Everything that is gendered in life is female to Bee unless she's told otherwise. This makes me smile - how the world has changed from when I was young. All of her toys are girls by default, even those with boy names. Alternately, her sand bear was definitely a boy before she dropped him on his head, breaking him and spilling the sand everywhere, but she had named him Charlotte after her best friend at school. 

She's developed such an intense crush (at age 3!) on our garage attendant that I was starting to worry.  "I like Lou," she says over and over. "Mama, I really like Lou." When he's not there, she's devastated, and when he is, she's over the moon. It takes us forever to get our car sometimes because she's so busy flirting with him. And then, just as I was trying to think of how to tackle that one, two seconds later she added "And I really like Mickey Mouse too," and I felt much, much better.

In other ways she's such a baby still. She doesn't quite get the concept of growing up. When something is too small for her, she tells me she will wear it again when she gets smaller and it fits her again. She dawdles. Oh man, does she dilly-dally. Especially when I am in a hurry. Then she's like molasses, and me rushing her does nothing but make her slower, and me homicidal. 

When I was little, my parents gave me the Triboro Bridge. I don't remember how that happened but I remember growing up knowing it was my bridge. Since that is the bridge we take most frequently as both sets of grandparents live in Queens, I gave that bridge to Bee when she was a baby too and told her it was hers. This is a story she wants to hear every time we cross it, so, still somewhat confused, she now she tells everyone it's her bridge and that mama gave it to her when she was a little girl and she will give it back to Mama when she gets bigger. She has also made it her business to assign every bridge in creation to someone we know, so if you're reading this, there's a good chance there's a bridge out there that Bee thinks is yours.

5. My girls act like siblings. They actually behave like sisters now instead of one toddler and one lump I mean baby. Despite Teeny's challenges, we definitely have two active, competitive little girls in the house. The girls spend more time now fighting over who gets to sit in my lap, snuggle with me, or be carried by me than they do anything else. And Bee is a big sister in the best and worst ways. Protective and loving of Teeny most of the time, I heard her telling a complete stranger on the subway platform that "Teeny doesn't walk yet. But she will!"  On the other hand, she also doesn't hesitate to snatch something from her sister's hands or shove her if she's blocking her direct path to Mama or to a particularly coveted toy. What simultaneously amuses me and breaks my heart a little is that Teeny is now no longer oblivious to the inequity inherent in being the little sister. She may not be able to fight back, but she sure can wail. I find myself saying such cliched things: Bee, share with your sister! Give it back. These moments are wonderful even when they aren't, because I am thrilled to see them act like normal siblings. Even better are the interactive play moments that are slowly becoming more commonplace. 

This coupled with Bee's new adventurous vocabulary provides us with endless entertainment. Bee's favorite words are "even" and "actually." She uses them all the time, rarely correctly. "And even," she'll begin, "I want to go outside on my bike, actually." Another time, in the car: "We are almost at Nana and Papa's house, you know. And even, when I get there Nana will take me to the park, actually." 

About a week ago I got a text from Johnny while I was at work, in a meeting. I snuck a peek at my phone. "I just got kicked out of the girls' room," he wrote. "Bee said, 'Get out, Daddy. Girls only. We're dancing,' and slammed the door in my face." I laughed out loud, and my heart warmed for little Teeny, included in her sister's imaginative games like any little sibling might be, until the next time her big sister turned on her again. 

"That's not cool, Teeny!" she said when Teeny wanted to play with Bee's Leap Frog laptop one afternoon a few days later. I tried to negotiate the sharing and felt my patience dwindling. I opened my mouth to argue with them and was cut off. "Slow down, Mama," Bee interrupted, wise beyond her three years. "It's all o-tay."

What am I forgetting? What does growing up and into your older self look like for you?  Let me know in the comments.

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