This morning Wally woke up early. I blame it on the cold.* Zero degrees outside at sunup. When Jay was eighteen-months-old he was waking up before 6am everyday, until we turned up the heat in his bedroom. Problem solved. Since then, anytime a baby wakes up early, I say it’s the cold. My sister, whose 11-month-old son Peter wakes up at ungodly hours regardless of the temperature in his room, is tired of hearing this.
Anyway, Wally was up early, so I parked him on the floor to play with his brother’s toys** and lay down on the couch. I wanted to go back to sleep but instead I started thinking about an essay I read the day before by mommy blogger Glennon Melton called “Don’t Carpe Diem.” It’s been circling the Internet over the last week and a few people have sent it to me, saying that it reminds them of Growing Sideways. I read the essay. I liked it. I agree.
Melton’s point of departure is an experience in the supermarket that’s common to all parents of young children. She’s in line with her three young children, who are busy committing all manner of shenanigans, when an older woman comes up to her and says, “Enjoy every moment. It goes by so fast.”
Melton hates being told this. She says it makes her “paranoid and panicky” because she doesn’t in fact enjoy every moment. She says those kinds of admonishments make her feel “guilty because honestly, I [am] tired and cranky and ready for the day to be over quite often.”
Two thoughts in reply. First, I’m with her on the general point of battling feelings of guilt whenever I’m not fully engaged with Jay and Wally. This morning, two hours after I got up with Wally, I went upstairs to brush my teeth while he and Jay were playing in the living room. And then, instead of going back downstairs to play with them, I flopped face down on my bed.
Even in this totally exhausted state my brain had just enough juice to perform one last nagging calculation: “Maybe,” it said to me, “There’s a more fulfilling/meaningful/interesting way to spend the next five minutes of your life than with your nose pressed into your duvet.”
“Shut up brain,” I replied, and closed my eyes.
My second thought in response to Melton’s essay is that there’s a more generous way to think about what that woman told her in the supermarket. When people say, “Enjoy every moment” they don’t really mean every moment. They just mean that it’s really easy to slip into a lowest common denominator state where you let fatigue and frustration and anger and boredom rule the way you experience your life. And it’s worth being aware of that tendency in order to consciously fight against it. So when an older parent tells me to “Enjoy it because it goes fast,” I appreciate the reminder.
There’s one more thing I want to say about the essay. And then a story.
Towards the end Melton draws a distinction between two kinds of time. The first she calls “chronos” which she says is the kind of time you experience when, say, you’re up before dawn with a kid and you keep glancing at the clock and it keeps saying 5:48am. The second kind of time she calls “kairos,” which is meant to describe experiences of complete harmony when, for a moment at least, the tick-tock fades away. A couple of months ago I wrote about the experience of watching Jay sleep in his crib. That would be an example of kairos time.
Yesterday afternoon was heavier on chronos.
Jay, Wally, and I were in Whole Foods buying a loaf of bread. Wally was strapped to my chest and Jay was in the shopping cart. We’d been waiting for a few minutes—the man who cuts the bread was nowhere to be found—when Jay said in about the most urgent voice he’s ever used, “I need to go pee.”
“You need to hold it,” I snapped back at him, just because I was in a snapping kind of mood.
He started squirming vigorously in the cart. “I need to get down, I need to get down,” he said, utterly panicked. Oh boy. This is a kid who peed just once on our recent 10-hour car trip from Virginia to Michigan. He knows how to hold it. And clearly he couldn’t anymore. It was exactly the scenario I’d been dreading since we potty-trained Jay back in October.
I dropped my un-sliced loaf of bread on the bakery counter and made a quick U-turn with our shopping cart. On the way to the bathroom I knocked over a basket of potato chips and upended a chair in the Whole Foods café. But we made it before anything trickled down Jay’s leg.
“But now what?” I realized as I pulled the stall door shut. Jay is too short to pee in an adult toilet without being held up. Wally was strapped to my chest (in his bulky winter suit, btw), which made it hard to hold Jay up under his armpits the way I usually would have done it. And there was nowhere to put Wally down because public bathrooms are disgusting.
By then Jay was knock-kneed and teary. Finally, I droped his pants and decided to pick him up like he’s a 2×4, completely parallel to the floor. I couldn’t really see him because Wally was blocking my view, but with my arms outstretched in what I’m pretty sure was a torture position used by the Japanese in World War II I tried to position Jay so that his penis was directly above the toilet. It wasn’t. We readjusted.
And then that boy proceeded to let out the longest pee of his life. I’m holding him up in the air and my muscles are dying and I’m thinking he’s never peed more than five seconds in a row ever, but he just kept going and going and going…
*One unrelated story involving the cold. This morning, around 7:45am, my neighbor came outside and started shooting hoops in his driveway. He’s in his early-twenties and lives at home with his dad. I see him shooting in the driveway often, usually in the afternoons around about the time we leave to get Caroline at school. I’ve never seen him do anything particularly athletic, but he’s clearly practiced a lot. He dribbles well and when he shoots more often than not it’s a swish. I get the sense that mindlessly shooting around in his driveway is an important part of his daily routine.
Even so, I was surprised to see him outside on what was the coldest morning of the winter so far. He had on a hooded sweatshirt but no gloves. I expected him to take a few shots and then run back inside, but he stayed out for nearly an hour. I kept sneaking glances at him through the window. From what I could tell, he never cupped his hands over his mouth, or shivered, or gave any sign that the cold was getting to him. The whole thing was moving in its way. I figured he had something he needed to work out, and that cold be dammed, playing basketball was the best way he knew how to do it.
**Another theory. If Wally’s not waking up early because of the cold, maybe he does it to play with Jay’s toys.