Saturday, January 7, 2012

What I Forgot

A million years ago when I was a stay-at-home bleary-eyed mother of pre-schoolers, running on fumes, my head filled with their never-ending chatter, my house cluttered with naked, tangled-haired barbies and matchbox cars and pointy legoes and Play Doh matted in the rug, my wise friend Deb told me something that has stayed with me ever since: the days are long and the years are short.

Back then that resonated with me because oh my lord the days were long. Crack of dawn you’d hear the little chirpy voices and then it was a seemingly endless go go go of diaper changing and making meals and cleaning up meals and swiping noodle-y-o’s off faces and packing diaper bags and managing car seats and bath times and story times. When you’re in that mode, there is nothing but the present moment. It is simply you and them until they finally collapse in their beds (or, who are we kidding here?—probably they’re in your bed) and you get the weirdly quiet, messy house to yourself for a couple of hours so you can hopefully recharge for the next day.

But all of that—what was once MY LIFE—slid away with the years and the second part of the statement, the years are short, gained new meaning. Because man oh man that’s true too. The little girl who changed her clothes twenty million times a day and who freaked out about standing up with her pre-school class for “graduation” is now a fashionable high schooler with no qualms about performing on stage. The little boy obsessed with modes of transportation and insects and medieval weaponry is about to graduate and (ahem, proud braggy mom alert) attend Yale next fall.

I don’t know how I forgot the other stuff—the sippy cups and the coloring books and the tub toy foam letters, but it all came back last week when I went out of town to help a good friend. Long story, but the gist is I was plopped into a household with young children and it was like I’d time-traveled into my old life. At the same time I was reading a great book that punctuated the whole experience, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.

The gist of that is the main character Alice wakes up after an accident and realizes that she can’t remember the last ten years of her life. Ten years ago she was pregnant with her first child and crazy in love with her husband Nick and caught up in renovating their dream house. Now she’s shocked to find that she’s the mother of three children, the dream house is finished and beautiful, and she and Nick are in the midst of a nasty divorce. Once Alice was a laid back, kind of flaky, sweet young woman and now she’s surrounded by middle aged people who apparently view her as a driven, Tiger Mommish, uber-volunteer obsessed with going to the gym. Her life is so different from what she had envisioned and somehow she’s lost herself along the way. Or maybe she’s just grown up.

So there I was, chasing after pre-schoolers and swiping up drink spills and watching videos (Cars Two. I give it two thumbs up) and combing barbie hair and playing "train" and helping with homework (an hour a day for kindergartners seems excessive to me) and cutting fruit into small, less chokable chunks and answering questions (the big ones: What is your middle name? Why?) and then, later, when the kids were asleep, I’d sneak off into my room and read What Alice Forgot. It took me all week because I could only manage a few chapters before nodding off.

It was a weird experience. I’m back in my present life now where I can go to the bathroom without announcing it to the household and nobody needs to be reminded not to suck on a marker or dump a bottle of lotion on the dog. Older son is off driving around with friends. Daughter is practicing cello in her room. Amazing husband who held down the fort while I was gone is in the kitchen making dinner so I can “get some writing in.”

Time is passing before my eyes. Once there were stickers pasted on the furniture and apple juice stains on the carpet and there were days I didn’t think I could manage another moment. But I did manage it. I just wish there were more moments when I realized that it all would disappear.

There’s a video of my daughter’s pre-school graduation. She was so afraid to go up on stage with her class. I don’t know why. She had practiced all the songs. She had the little graduation cap. But that night she refused to leave my lap. The teacher smiled sympathetically and said something like, "there’s always one kid…" And I remember thinking, yeah, but why does it have to be my kid? The video is excruciating to watch. It’s my little girl terrified and clinging to me and looking younger and more darling than I knew at the time. I can hardly focus on her though because all I see is Me, impatient and rolling my eyes and trying to pry her away. "Just go up there," that me whispers into her ear. "You can do it." The me watching, though, wants to smack my old self. She’s so sweet and cute, I wish I could tell her. Don’t you see it? Let her sit on your lap, you idiot. Hold her close. Don’t let her go away.


  1. Jody, to quote the teenagers with whom I work, "OMG." You just described my life. Like, exactly. I am happy for the reminders you gave, laughed out loud at the details you captured, and am trying to make it all slow down. Thanks.

  2. You have just made me cry - you are so so right!

  3. Your kids don't have any idea how great their mother is... and you made me cry, too.

  4. nobody cries alone in my cyberpresence...

    thank you for this.