Noah is going through a Super Why phase right now. That adorable little Woofster, those catchy songs, the sparkly letters and slow questions and lots of pausing for thought. . .who could go wrong, really? When he climbs up on the couch and says, "I watch some Super Why pweeeze, Mommy? A Woofster? A Super Readers?" who am I to say no?? PBS is like the kale chip of television. OF COURSE you can have some! Oh, did you just eat the whole bag? Oh, well! At least it's kale chips! Right? The highlight of the Super Why episode for Noah is the part in the book club where Whyatt asks everyone to say their name and put their arms in, culminating with "Super Readers, TO THE RESCUE!!" Noah screams his own name and then screams for me to come put my arm in, too, and wherever I am in the house I come running. Mommy can't miss "arms in" time, it's a recipe for toddler devastation. As I put my arm in with his yesterday, I marveled at his chubby little hand and his sweet eyelashes, his raspy little voice and that precious little round belly. I don't know if it was just the fact that it was the same denim couch, or the same jazzy music or the blonde hair or the way the Fall sun was slanting right in behind him but I started to well up with tears.
I had a clear picture of my 2 year old Daniel, five years ago, on that couch (less faded) with the blonde hair (more curly) and the raspy voice (even more raspy), begging me for arms in time during Super Why. In those days I would hear the cry of "MOMMY!! ARMS IN!!! MOMMY!!! ARMS IN TIIIIIIIIIME!!" and drag my tired booty from wherever it was in the house where I was just trying to have a hot second of peace and quiet, typically with an infant Joshy hanging asleep in the crook of one arm. A crazy-haired haired little Phil would be sitting next to D, scratching the top of his head with both hands because he was so anxious that I wouldn't make it to the couch in time for "ARMS IN!" And we would put our arms in. Even though I didn't feel like it. And I could barely move my arm out of my personal cloud of sleep deprivation. And I was sort of cursing myself for walking so far away in order to get to my spot of peace and quiet because now I had to walk back. But I remember saying to myself, "It won't be like this forever. He won't always want me to do this." So I did it.
"Super Readers- TO THE PESCUE!!" Daniel would scream with a huge grin on his angelic face.
"WESCUE, Sir. WESCUE. Not 'PESCUE',"Phil would correct him. Every. Single. Time.
And I would shake my head and half-smile, reheat my coffee for the tenth time and shuffle back to my remaining 20 minutes of peace and quiet and they would sit transfixed by the Super Readers, changing the story, solving the problem, working together with powers to read. . .wow those 20 minutes went fast!
It won't be like this forever.
And it wasn't.
This week at the bus stop, Daniel hasn't wanted to give me a kiss in front of his friends.
He watched Super Why with Noah, but didn't want to put his arm in because, "That's embarrassing, Mommy."
He is now an ACTUAL SUPER READER, and reads to himself at night. Mostly Captain Underpants.
He doesn't ask me to sing him "Sunshine on My Shoulders" to help him fall asleep, or really sing anything for that matter.
The things his friends say and do are so funny and cool that they are now our topic of conversation, not Whyatt or Wonder Red or Alphabet Pig.
My baby boy is growing.
But, the tears in my eyes weren't for him. He HAS to grow! He NEEDS to grow! And he's adorable and smart and wonderful and funny! And I didn't miss out. Although I don't remember much, I took lots of pictures and wrote some stories down. I did the "arms in" and tucked him in every night and sat on the couch through Mister Rogers marathons and took them all to the park for a whole 20 minutes before everyone got tired and we had to haul them back home and made sandwiches shaped like penguins to get them to eat their meat. I did all the things. He remembers with his heart. He was loved, and that love is a part of him now.
The tears were for me. The me I was. The me I am today just wants to go back and give five years ago Jen a hug. "Dear God, Jen, don't be so hard on yourself. Don't expect yourself to be perfect. It's OK to be tired. You haven't had a whole night of sleep in ages!! You've only been a mom for three years, you aren't supposed to have everything figured out. It's OK to let them sit there and watch Super Why. They are tired and so are you. AND THEY ARE GOING TO BE REALLY GOOD READERS!! You may actually be some sort of case study on how PBS makes kids smart someday, who knows. But it's OK. They know you love them because you smile really big when you turn on the PBS and hug them on the couch while you watch Elmo. The house is a mess, but that will get easier. Lower your standards. Ask for help. It will all get easier and then other things will get harder but you will have what you need when the time comes."
When I look back on the past few years of my life, my biggest regret is not being more gentle with myself in the times where I was struggling. I tried to hold it all together by holding myself to a standard of perfection instead of a standard of grace. If I could go back, I would make myself big signs that said, "You don't have to be perfect to be loved!" and "It's all going to be OK!" and "You are exactly where you are supposed to be!" and hang them all over my house to read, instead of looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing my messy postpartum crazy hair and smudgy mascara and squishy belly and wishing that I was doing something measurable with my days instead of doing the same dishes over and over. Perhaps five years ago me might have found current me unbelievable and totally annoying, but maybe, just maybe, I could have helped her out. I just wish that I hadn't been so hard on myself. I gave my kids a lot of joy, but I deserved some for myself.
But at least there's now. And that's why I was crying during Super Why as I put my hand on top of little Noah's. The joy of now and the joy I missed and all of the messy and beautiful days in between. And that's why I write. Since I can't go back and hug five years ago me, I can at least write for myself now. To call myself to a better way of living. To invite others to be more gentle with themselves, too.