“For nothing is fixed, forever and ever… it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” -James Baldwin
Spending the weekend with babies taught me a lot about the work of loving that I had lost sight of in all these years immersed in teenagers. The majority of the work of raising children occurs in small bites of seemingly endless time. It had been years since I was up at the crack of dawn with little kids whose engines are on go from the moment they open their eyes. I had forgotten how the daily napping schedule is sacrosanct and all the tricks I used to use to get my kids to eat real food. I had forgotten how small the world becomes when you hang out with toddlers.
It occurred to me as I was watching and helping my former nanny go through the same rituals with her own babies that she had done countless times with mine, how brief the time of childhood is. I didn’t tell her how soon it would be before she won’t even remember this phase of life. Naptime will recede from view as though it were a dream. As I watched her and listened to her purposeful adherence to all the details that make this life work, I was reminiscing over the thousands of hours that I spent in the same labor of love.
But what really struck me in this retrospection was the recognition of how little my children remember of their own childhoods. My youngest daughter said: “I can see what a good mother you must have been when we were babies, the way you were playing with Dane yesterday.” All those endless hours of play mobile action on the floor, the carrying and rocking, singing and catching someone before they hit the dirt- those are my memories, not theirs.
I pass on my stories of my children’s earliest years to them like folklore, describing who they were then as some key into who they have become. It is easy to for me to believe as their mother that I knew them better than they knew themselves. This is a difficult one to shake, and I often wonder now as my kids fulfill their individuation whether my memories of whom they were inform or cloud my view of who they have become. Probably both.
What I realized most of all, is that all those hours of love and care, frustration and impatience come together to imprint in children deeply about the essentials: about being loved, feeling worthy of love, being heard and finding their voice. Maybe it was just yesterday, that my youngest daughter realized how well loved she was eleven years ago. It is a mystery, the details that come together inside us to tell us who we are.