A few months ago my brother called to ask if I would come up to Seattle to take care of my 11 month old nephew while he and my sister-in-law took their three year old to Canada to learn to ski. I jumped at the chance to get some concentrated Aunt time with Brady and thank you insane year of travel, I booked a ticket with my miles and took a few days off work.
It was only once I was actually airborne that I started thinking about how long it had been since I had been alone with a tiny human for longer than a few hours. At least ten years. I made a list in my head of things I didn't know-what do kids that age eat? How many naps do they take? Are they supposed to sleep through the night? Do you put them to sleep on their backs with a bottle? Or their tummies with a blankie?
These are question that most women my age can answer. Questions all the girls I used to babysit can answer.
I have gotten to a be a really, really good Aunt since Morgan appeared on the scene. I keep the boys in ridiculous tiny Nikes they will outgrow almost instantly, I chase them around the house and follow them up trees and put them on my shoulders and make silly faces, I take them to run an errand and let them eat an entire unauthorized cinnamon roll. I like to read bedtime stories and I can do all the voices, I make a lot of silly faces and I let them win at foot races. I tickle them but I stop before it's not fun anymore. I respect their space if they prefer it. I know you can't go wrong with Lightening McQueen. I'm good at whispering and telling jokes. I'm a pretty killer non-parent.
So as I'm watching the morning routine of "Garrett eat three more bites" and "please put those away" and the production it is for even my very skilled brother and sister-in-law to get two adults and a three year old out the door I was nervous.
I didn't take a shower. I didn't actually manage to ever put a bra on either but my friend Melissa was coming by with her 6 week old so I made Brady a deal that if he would play while I put on make-up I wouldn't even worry about still being in my pajamas. Melissa came. She looks fabulous. Like the same tiny waist she had when I met her in a Boston church lobby eight years ago. She has two kids and she manages Communications for a University but here she is all long glamorous hair and cute shoes six weeks after giving birth. We talk and giggle and gossip and when I put Brady down for a nap and he cries, she teaches me how to tell from his tone if he's tired crying or really sad crying. Once we determine it's the sad crying I bring him back downstairs and for once in my life I visit with another adult woman while trying to keep an unsteady baby out of trouble. I like the way it feels that I can manage to do both.
Melissa leaves to pick up her other little guy from school and Brady and I decide to brave the rain and go for a walk. I put a big coat over my pajamas and after what feels like a hundred years we have a stroller and socks and shoes and hats and we set off. They live close to a street full of shops and restaurants so we buy a present for Brady's soon-to-be girl cousin in Salt Lake. I take him to the famous music store where Pearl Jam has played. He is a good and patient baby while I check a few things out on the listening station that makes me wish there were more music stores and listening stations even though I know my own addictions to Shazam and mobile iTunes are the very reasons there are fewer music stores with listening stations.
We find a deli that can accommodate Brady's stroller. He drinks a bottle while I wait for my sandwich. I accidentally give him a chip that is lightly salted with jalepeno flavoring and feel grateful that no one can see the horrible face he makes before he spits it out. Rookie mistake. These are the kinds of mistakes I imagine new moms make and feel guilty about and veteran moms make and laugh about.
We go home and he is tired enough there is no crying when I put him to bed. I clean the house, finally take a shower and go to bed with a book and I'm passed out by 10:30. He needs a bottle at 3 and as I hold him in the dark house with my eyes drooping, calculating how much sleep I can get before he's wide awake for the day I think, I can't imagine doing this alone. How much better this probably is if there is someone you can nudge and tell "this one is yours". In the daylight you might have teachers and sitters and friends and people who can help but in the dark and quiet it's just you to figure out why he's crying and if you are doing this right and I bet those nights are just as scary as the ones where you stare at the ceiling and wonder if anyone will ever stare at that ceiling with you.
The next day my friend Jen is coming over. She has a four year old and a law practice but he is with his dad this weekend and so she's kidnapping us to go to a museum. Because Brady is 11 months so he can look at art just as easily as he can not watch television. She breezes in and helps me deal with car seats and diaper bags and makes sure I don't forget to put his coat back on when we leave. We look at art. We catch up. We brave a pub across the street. When we walk in and I smile at a group of young men and I realize that the young men don't smile back at the lady with a baby the way I am used to young men smiling at me. I think about my St. George sister-in-law and the haircut she wanted to get when her third baby came and her stylist said, "there are plenty of things to make you feel like a mom, keep your glamorous hair so you can still feel like a woman." And she did and she's a mom, and you don't want young men to smile at you when you are a mom like they did when you were single but I think maybe you still want them to want to.
I go home feeling terribly satisfied with our adventures. I have good intentions to get us back out the door for dinner but then The Proposal is on so I order Thai food and I sit with a baby on my lap and it's far less stressful than trying to figure out how to have SO MUCH FUN every single Saturday night. Brady sleeps well. We both do.
We have a lazy Sunday and then his parents come home and he's forgotten all about me. My brother makes the spaghetti that has been our favorite since we were kids. We read Garrett books that used to be ours and then everyone is tired.
I leave the next day and when I land in Denver, I am met with that quiet I never really know what to do with. It was 1:30 in the afternoon on a Monday and I had nowhere to be so I rode on the moving sidewalk from one end of the terminal to the other and thought about quiet.
In a lot of ways these two days were like my summer. I was tired and not entirely sure if I was doing things right and I have this suspicion that parenting is like managing and event where 100 people would like to tell you how much better it would be if you did it THIS way and hardly anyone says thank you but then the kid stops crying when you walk into his room because he knows you are going to take care of whatever it is that made him cry and when he reaches up his little arms for you to pick him up it's fine that you have to clean up so much poop and you can't really go to shows on weeknights anymore and it takes so damn long to get out the door because that kid needs so much stuff. My friend's "16 hours of hell for one hour of glory" description of the Olympics felt apt.
And this is not a new concept and I am not the first one to come up with it but this weekend left me even more convinced that it's so important to be engaged in what your life is right now. Mourning the past or stressing about the future or being upset about the place you are in-it ruins everything. Where my life is right now, where I work long hours and take fun trips and sometimes skip church to go skiing-this is the life I'll be awfully glad I had if (when?) I'm feeding a baby at 3 in the morning. I don't want my friends in mommyland to wish they had my life and I don't want to feel like I'm supposed to wish I had theirs.
As usual, I'm going to cruise into Christmas vacation entirely on fumes. It's my yearly measure that I'm doing life right.