In the list of qualifiers that could apply to parenting none seem to capture the non-stop minutiae. The word would have to fit in the gap between little urgencies and the grace-note-filled upward spiral of intermittent progress.
Right now, we have toddlers. Cedric is two and a half and William is one and a half. They’re learning to share – a skill that takes a lot of narration on my part because William has no words. A typical scene goes something like this: there is a toy. Most of the time, the toy is Cedric’s. He plays with it because it’s his idea and William is his audience. Then, maybe he wanders off with a new idea, like an adult, but too young to have the furrowed brow. William who is tired of being audience musters all the speed he can and captures the toy. Cedric notices, sometimes right away, sometimes later, and he defaults to loud protest. I decide whether or not to mediate.
This time, the toy is a wooden truck with detachable parts, screws and nails and tools. The sun is pouring through the window, refracted off banks of snow outside. I subdue Cedric and rock him on the chair, calming his intensity, breathing in the smell of his hair, grabbing it like a fistful of straw.
“It’s William’s turn, I know it’s your toy, but we have to share, it’s his turn, just a little while longer, just wait while he plays, I know… but we take turns…”
He’s still protesting, more quietly, still insistently, like someone who exchanges a sledgehammer for a rubber mallet, still knocking, knocking, knocking.
I’m answering a text from my sister. We’re working on a project together and I’m excited about it, my attention is divided between this project and my professional motherhood. There is knocking… Cedric is still knocking, a rubber mallet to my brain,
“It’s my truck!” he complains in litany form.
I lose patience. I declare a time-out. I get up and sit him in the hallway, on the shiny dented honey hardwood floor, and punch in two minutes on the microwave.
I return to the living room and William’s diaper needs to be changed. It’s reflexive. I gather him up and we pass Cedric on the way to the bedroom where I tackle the smell in a flurry of wipes. The microwave sounds, the minutes are up and so I call Cedric to the bedroom and we reconcile our differences. He leaves me to the buttons on William’s suit and finds the chalkboard in his sister’s room. William, clean and free, joins him.
It’s all forgot, like a string unknot and I bless the silence and resume the phone. I hear the scratching of chalk. Scratch, scratch, scratch, it fades into a quiet hum, but then there’s a crunch, and another one. I hold on to the hum, I don’t want to let it go… A few minutes later William comes to me, his stiff toddler legs belly-propelled… His mouth is dribbling yellow chalk. The crunch of yellow chalk was the price of the hum.
I know how fleeting the days are, the interminable ones I live and forget. I’ll soon reach a point when I’ve forgotten the adorable and the annoying parts of toddlerhood with only a brief glimpse like a buried memory coming to surface when I’ll feel heartbroken for a moment. But my present self is always telling my future self to relax, that I really am doing the best I can right now, no regrets. This crazy time with every minute accounted for, the boredom and the urgency pulling at two ends of me. It’s made me expand – like the Incredibles, I’m becoming the elastic mom.