As Duncan has grown older, one of my biggest concerns has been that he and I don’t have enough one on one “things” together. When Evangeline was the same age, I took her almost everywhere with me – to the pool, out to lunch, to brunch at a friend’s house – much of this we did with Sam but often we went off on our own adventures. Part of this stemmed from Evangeline’s extreme attachment to me between the ages of one and a half and three – for eighteen months, she screamed proverbial bloody murder if I so much as left her sight line. The other part, of course, was my own desire – I greatly enjoy having my children with me and rarely feel I need a break from them (I’m sure this is because I work full-time -if I were home with them all day I bet I’d feel differently!).
When Duncan arrived, one of my most immediate concerns after he left the NICU and my breast milk supply had been established was spending time with Evangeline. For three years we had been practically inseparable and while I knew that had to change, it was important to me that she realize she was still a priority of mine – a top priority. Between polar vortexes a rush of warm days shot through early March and probably before I was physically ready, I took her to the park. Together, with Duncan in his bouncy chair or strapped to me in the Ergo, we baked cakes and brownies – we watched princess movies, played with play dough and colored. These were the things I was able to do with her and together we revised our mother-daughter relationship to reflect our new reality, our now Duncan-filled reality. (As I write this, it sounds like Sam wasn’t in the picture, which isn’t he case at all – he was our Behind the Scenes, the one who for a few months needed me the least, He Who grocery shopped and went to work so we could pay our bills. His role was unsung, but it was mighty).
Over the last year and a half, Duncan and I have developed a few key things we do together. Reading through stacks of animal books is one thing – I’m not sure in the history of children if any other baby has been as delighted by what feels like the entirety of the animal kingdom as Duncan is! He is also my grocery shopping companion, and while occasionally his company can result in some frustration (his constant grabbing and tearing up of my grocery list, or the time he got his hands on a glass jar of cherries and delightedly threw it to the ground), for the most part he is a calm and enjoyable companion in the grocery store, babbling away in his limited baby talk way, every third or fourth word recognizable, often leaning toward me for a hug or a kiss as we go about our business. When we go to Whole Foods for the five things I insist on purchasing from there (tonic water, apple spice oatmeal, milk, gouda and lamb kebobs), we share a fruit crumble bar from the bakery while sitting in the cafe before I load our groceries. I’m also teaching him how to go down the stairs safely.
And that’s pretty much the sum total of anything really unique he and I do together – read animal books, share oatmeal crumble bars, grocery shop and practice stair safety. I guess in some ways, as a second child, it’s part of his lot to scrabble, to find ways to assert himself – and really, he has no problem with this life skill, forcing books into my hands so I’ll read to him, plopping down into any readily available lap for a cuddle (including his sister’s), moaning dramatically at the back door when it isn’t open the instant he wants to make his way to the sandbox. But, like his sister, he is the heart of my heart – a piece of my greatest joy – the child who looks more like me, smiles as often as I do, who already loves a good book in a comfy chair, and I owe him a little more.
“One day,” Sam mused, “I expect to come home and find you two toe to toe on the couch, reading separate books, completely and totally at peace.”
Or maybe I think I owe myself more? One of my aunts, who stayed home with my cousins for several years before becoming a school teacher, always referred to those years as her gift to herself – her time to soak up all their baby deliciousness – my mom uses the same words. In our age of “mommy war” and everyone reacting defensively, it’s not terribly politically correct to point out that children do need their mothers or fathers around on a fairly routine basis. I don’t live with regrets, and I know my working is best for my family, but I do wish I had been able to have more flexibility in my day for my kids on occasion.
At any rate! Guilt can consume you if you spend too much time with it, and is an inherently selfish and unproductive emotion to boot. Instead, I am greatly looking forward the upcoming 4th of July weekend. Our entire family was supposed to travel to upstate New York to visit Sam’s folks, but for the life of me I couldn’t find a kennel to take our dog. After some consideration, Sam and I realized this trip could be hugely beneficial for everyone – he could take Evangeline and she could be the sole beneficiary of her grandparents’ attention for a weekend, and I could spend some one on one time with Duncan, going to the zoo and the pool and
dodging correcting his attempts to cover me in blueberry yogurt. My parents always made sure to spend individual time with my brother and me as we grew up, including trips to our grandparents, and those are some of my favorite memories. I’m looking forward to learning more about my little guy, just as Sam is looking forward to his solo time with Evangeline. Lemons out of lemonade, is what we are doing – and I’m greatly looking forward to it.
Although – I did forget. I’m also trying to teach Duncan some table manners, particularly keeping his feet off the table during meals. It’s going really really well and I know his future partner will thank me for this someday.