I can't blame them. I am there with them, in the isolation of raising small children in a world devoid of neighbors, in a world where nobody raises their eyes anymore to say good morning, or to comment on the weather. I am here, too, in a world that bustles with people who have very important things to do, and very important places to go.
But it really makes me sad when I see all these people, mostly mothers, I'm talking about now, who walk about after their children at the park, or the Children's Museum, or the playground, and they look like they are driving little remote control cars. They are following their children, but their eyes are down in their hand, where their phone lies. They flip through messages, check email, see what's going on on Facebook. Their children wander, not unhappily, exploring their world as children will. The mothers are there, sometimes answering absently as their children prattle on, eyes down. They are missing most of what is going on in front of them.
I can't blame them, I'll say it again. The lure of connection, of somebody else out there, of someone who cares, or can make you laugh, or can remind you of the self you have when you aren't alone with your children, is enormous. We all need that link to our former selves. But Oh! how quickly childhood passes, and how fast the days of being able to be with little children will go by. Here are mothers who have the privilege of being with their children, yet they are gone. I feel sad for them. I feel sad for myself. I worry about where the world will be when my children are older, a world where people only interface by handset and ignore what's going on around them.
Here's why I can watch this: I don't have a phone. Yet. Because what will I do when I have one? I will look at it. I will try to keep it in my purse but sometimes I, too, will be overwhelmed by the curiosity of who might be thinking of me, loving me from afar. I know it's hard. I'm resisting joining this club until I absolutely have to.
Another reason why I can see this is because I have been here before, with Liam and Aoife. I have walked the parks, and visited the pool and the library for those early years and have watched the minutes and days be gobbled up before my eyes. Now they are in school, they are away from me for seven hours a day and I miss those early days. The knowledge of how incredibly fleeting early childhood is gives me seemingly infinite patience for the little things, the boredom, the beauty of puttering around with two little girls. I am already anxious about its end, about what the next stage will bring. I am dragging my feet, and I don't want anything to distract me from the warm hugs and cream cheesy kisses that I get today.
I'm so lucky to be here again, with these two little ones, and to have the joy of the big ones, too. I love, love, love our big family. There is so much figuring out to do with two children. The first comes, and then the second, and it's all a big guessing game, it's walking in the dark. But this second time, with number three and four, there is no mystery. Life is an open, clear book. I have walked this path. Suddenly it all seems easy, even the new things with the older kids. I realize it all comes around, ends up alright. Things don't cause stress. I'm so lucky to be here.
Home we come, and Maeve is already at the door, arms open, calling for me. I pick her up and her strong, wiry arms wrap around my neck like a baby monkey, clinging to me as if I'd been gone for days or weeks. She claws at my shirt to nurse, mouths my cheeks and seemingly tries to climb inside my body to infuse herself with as much me as possible. Her warm body, her closeness, her intimacy makes me almost weep with joy. I never want this to end. Yet I can barely walk from one end of the room to the next without her needing me, and leaving her unsupervised is taking a mighty risk. There is nothing, not one, single thing, that is easy about Maeve. Yet I want to freeze-frame her just how she is, tiny and needy and warm, sticky with dried soy yogurt under her chin, marker in her hair, her little nose wrinkled with a perpetual laugh. She melts into my arms, beautiful, joyful Maeve, and I want her to stay a baby with me forever.
Which way do I want to go? Do I want my children to be big, so I can be easy with them? So I can walk with them, and laugh freely, and play games, and have them accompany me on my daily life? Or do I need them little, where I carve out their life but they dictate mine? I am in both places now, stretched long and lean with babies on four places of the spectrum. They are all amazing. How lucky I am.
But I can't shake the fear of not having a baby ever again. Will I ever love anything again, ever, in my life, as I have loved raising a baby from tiny, mewling, naked bird to walking, talking, thinking creature? What if I never do?