An acquaintance recently criticized me for making my 2-year-old the “center of my universe.” It wasn’t someone who really knows me or my family, and it wasn’t intended to be mean, but I hate when people say stuff like that. Parents of little kids are doing their best to meet everyone’s needs (including their own), and the last thing they need is more guilt, accusation, or judgment.
Also, he’s two years old, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much still a baby. So, yeah, my 2-year-old son is the center of my universe.
I know it’s only for now because I have been through these early years before and gotten to the other side. My older child is eight. He’s weaned, potty trained, sleeps through the night, and can roll his eyes all the way to Tanzania. Amazing.
But as for the kid who still looks for me as soon as he wakes up and buries his head in my lap when he cries – why yes, he is my everything right now.
Of course I value myself as a woman who has worth beyond being a mother. And yes, I encourage my children to be independent and have a life outside of my arms. And no, I have not forgotten to care about my family and friends, social and cultural issues, the Earth, and the whole freaking galaxy.
But right now, while my son still poops in a diaper and needs a grown-up around him almost all the time, I’m going to give a little less attention to everything else in my life and focus on him.
Of course I am not with him every second of my life – but even when he is in someone else’s care, I am thinking about him. I am hoping that whoever is with him will make sure he doesn’t devour a bottle of aspirin. I am hoping that person will understand his toddler-speak well enough, and will be able to soothe him if he gets upset.
I don’t obsess about these things, but my time away from him is different than my time away from my older son. He still needs me in a different way. There is an invisible rope still tethering us together.
And for now, I make decisions and sacrifices based on his needs, as all parents of little ones do in their own ways (which of course may look different from my ways).
For me, this means choosing work that allows me to spend time with him (but having less spending money). It means saying no to most vacations and big purchases, yes to simplicity and thriftiness. It means living on broken sleep and insanely early mornings. It means fewer dates with my husband, a “Moms’ Night Out” that ends by 9 p.m. (mostly because I can’t stay up any later!), and skipping out on family gatherings early to make it home for bedtime (most of the time).
And it means remembering that this intense time of having young children is a season. A blip in time. A time for giving, giving, giving – sometimes till I bleed. It means learning to make time for myself and others in the midst of all this. It means remembering that I can’t please everyone. It means ignoring the critics. It means accepting help. It means not taking for granted all the gifts I am blessed with, but also knowing it’s OK to wish away the relentlessness of my days.
My younger child will turn three in two months. I can already see myself turning into a mother of children, not a mother of babies or toddlers.
The season that is coming up will be freeing, but it will tear my heart in two.
Gone will be the pudge between the bottoms of his little hands and his wrists. Gone will be the days when he really and truly believes my kisses take away the pain of bumps and bruises. Gone will be the mornings when he wants me to linger in bed with him just a bit longer, his toes digging into my soft belly.
I don’t think a mother ever feels completely untethered from her children, but as the years go on, the ties loosen. Priorities shift. The universe expands. Already, I can feel my son start to spin away from me, slowly, with lots of awkward bumps along the way. But it’s happening. Hopefully I am giving him the confidence, strength, and grace he needs to fly someday.
And as he soars out there, I hope he’ll keep a little piece of me sealed in his heart.