Mary toddled over to the book shelf and came back with one of her favourites. Maybe it was Everywhere Babies or maybe it was The Pokey Little Puppy or Sandra Boyton’s Belly Button Book. She climbed up onto my lap and I reluctantly put my phone down and opened the book.
“Dat?” she asked.
“Baby. Baaabeee. Baby!” I answered.
“That’s another baby. Yes, other baby. That’s right. Baby.”
“Doggy. Do you see the doggy? That’s a dog.”
“Dat? Dat? Dat? DAT? DAT DAT DAT DAT!”
“Bunny rabbit, stroller, baby’s nose, baby’s daddy, tree, bird, moon, sun, flower.”
It went on like that for about six months or so. I mean, sure, we took breaks to eat and sleep and to schlep the other two kids around. Sometimes she’d go to the baby sitter and sometimes she’d do other things. But the ages ten to sixteen months mostly featured a lot of asking about “dat”. There were some other words, yes, but not very many and not very often.
It was starting to wear thin. I found myself increasingly wishing she would just grow up a little already. “When can I read you the actual story?” I thought. “When can you read to yourself? Or will you at least sit and watch tv for fifteen minutes so I can get the bloody dinner on in peace?”
In two and a half years she will be in kindergarten, full day kindergarten. In two and a half years all my kids will be in school and I couldn’t wait. Intellectually, of course, I knew that I would miss her when she’s gone. I would miss having babies and I really shouldn’t wish away these early years. But this was my third time playing the “Dat? Dat? Dat?” game and I was tired of it. I wanted to spend more time working and less time nurturing. It’s horrible, I know, but that’s how I felt.
Then on Friday morning I managed to misplace my bank card, thus putting the kibosh on our weekly shopping trip. I sat down with a coffee and she climbed up onto my lap with a book instead.
“Dat?” she asked.
“Bear.” I answered.
“Buh!” she said.
“Yes! Yes, Mary! That’s very good talking!”
And it went on. There was buh for bear and beh for bird. Duh for dog and muh for moon. She pointed and repeated and she must have said a dozen new words. It continued throughout the day and beyond. She pushed herself to try new sounds, even landing that pesky “f.” She babbled and sang and delighted her brother and sister with her nonsense. She laughed along with them; it was a full and hearty, decidedly un-baby-like laugh. She played games with her sister and even forgot to ask to nurse one morning.
So of course I’m in shambles. My baby is growing up too fast, yes, but it’s not just her. Colum, a couple months shy of seven, is all gangling limbs and Star Wars trivia. He has his own life at school and hockey and then comes home and entertains himself mostly. He’s still a little boy but barely. How many more years, months or days before my mere presence at the edge of the school yard is enough to make him feel utterly humiliated? How long before good night cuddles are no longer welcome?
And Irene! My poor middle child always gets lost in the shuffle. It’s easy to track those first milestones into uncharted big kid territory or those last teetering baby steps into toddlerhood. But she just seamlessly grows from toddler to kindergartner, from little sister to big sister, without anyone much noticing. I don’t know when she started to be able to reach the light switch or the bathroom faucet without a stool. I don’t know how her hair got so long or how she learned how to get her own coat and boots on without any fuss.
They are all growing right before my eyes and I am somehow missing it. And if I’m not missing it I’m wishing it away. This is the most obvious and natural thing, but it still somehow surprises me. It catches me off guard and brings tears to my eyes. I don’t want to turn back time, but if I could find a way to hold onto the present, all these fleeting presents, just a little bit longer, that would be so good.