Not long ago I was sitting in a room full of you when I started to get worried. We were watching babies struggle through tummy time like little miniature beached seals, talking about new teeth, sleepless nights and rice cereal. You all seemed kind and friendly but I felt vaguely trapped, as if in a small room that was slowly collapsing. I racked my brain looking for a window to afford me an expansive view–a glimpse of your passions, opinions, and ideas–but nothing worked. Despite asking several questions, each potential conversation promptly derailed itself. One infant started crying, another spit up, and then a two-year-old sibling rolled a ball my way, babbling something I interpreted as an invitation to play. That’s when I gave up, rolled the ball back to my incoherent little partner, and began to tremble at what’s ahead.
The fear is mixed with curiosity and a measure of arrogance. Having birthed my last baby almost 8 years ago I wonder if I was ever like you. Did I engage in discussion that didn’t address bowel movements or baby food? How long could I attend to an adult conversation before unclipping my nursing bra or making faces at my toddler? And, will it be the same this time around? Will the world of babies consume enough of me I won’t remember what I used to talk about before the birth of my third child? I ask these questions well aware I may be eating my words in a couple months; that sleep issues might eclipse subjects like good books, relationships, plants, the supernatural, long-term goals, and teaching, or anything else requiring more than a 2-minute attention span.
But I’m still comfortable in the saddle of my high-horse for now. It feels good to imagine myself as more interesting, more evolved, and beyond something–even if it’s just one of many parenting phases. I could stay up here for awhile and enjoy a long canter except for one thing: what you mommies are doing makes all the difference in the world. Your small talk and single-mindedness matter.
When I see children who don’t have enough words to function in a classroom or communicate basic concepts I’m reminded of you. When you talk to your kids in that grating monologue voice (why is it always so loud?) at the grocery story, telling them you want more bananas, or a bigger watermelon, or the bagel beside the cookies, they are learning. When I hear children–children much older than yours–unravel with fury, sobbing or screaming and unable to cope with even the smallest reversal, I think of you. Shielding myself, especially my swollen belly, from their unpredictable limbs makes me wonder about the scenes of rage they’ve witnessed or endured themselves. Remember this. When your little ones won’t stop crying and frustration crawls through your body like a trail of biting ants, your children are learning to deal with anger. When you yell in their cherub faces to GO TO BED and then apologize later, kissing their sweaty foreheads, they are learning how to say sorry. When you face disappointment and they watch your face crease with stress before you remember to breathe, they are apprentices in the school of resilience.
And so dear mommies, don’t stop, no matter how boring you might be. Please don’t stop. I can listen to another poopy story. Or feign interest in how much your child eats or weighs or pukes or cries or sleeps. Your devotion matters even if it costs you a few years of stimulating conversation. I am grateful for your keen intuition and instincts, the sacrifices you make, your unwavering focus, and the tight grip on the task you hold in your hands. Your commitment to a few little bodies makes this planet more liveable. You are growing people, not wild animals; in these few short years your children are discovering empathy, kindness, self-control and what it means to be human. And that’s worth it for all of us.