I’m glad my kids can wipe their own butts and tie their own shoes. I love that I no longer have to orchestrate the lengthy and frustrating process of bathtime and teeth brushing and getting everyone to stay in their beds; when I’m tired, I just dole out hugs and kisses and retreat to my bedroom. I’m thrilled that I’m past the days of coaxing protesting, stiff-as-a-board toddlers into car seats and enduring grocery store meltdowns. In fact, now that my boys are 15, 12, 10, and 8, I can just say “I’m going to the store. Keep an eye on things.” And they do. And I go to the store in peace, without having to pack a diaper bag or carry someone’s snotty Kleenexes and Happy Meal toys in my purse or lug a whiny preschooler through a parking lot.
It’s awesome to have older kids. Sure, tween and teen meltdowns are also a thing, but at least they don’t happen in public. And I’ve traded the struggle of brushing their teeth for the struggle of preaching that yes, you have to brush your teeth every day and it’s been how long since you brushed your teeth?! but overall, there are a lot of aspects of little-kid life that I am absolutely never going to miss.
Once in a while, though, the realization that my babies are gone hits me like a ton of bricks. And most recently, it was the theme song from Oswald — the Nick Jr. show about the big blue octopus — that did me in.
As most parents of tweens and teens can attest, my kids watch a lot of YouTube, streaming it to our TV so the whole household can hear the ridiculous things they find (mainly obnoxious gaming commentary these days). Most of the time I don’t even notice, but as I was cooking dinner the other night, they stumbled across a compilation of theme songs from all the shows they watched as toddlers and preschoolers: Oswald. Wow Wow Wubbzy. Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends. Yo Gabba Gabba. The Backyardigans.
As I stood at the stove, spoon in hand, I was instantly transported back a decade to a time when our TV was always on, but mainly as background noise — and those theme songs were the soundtrack of my life. They were the backdrop against which I changed diapers and wiped sticky fingers and faces and laid protesting little bodies down for naps. Those catchy melodies sometimes signified that it was lunch time, or — in the case of my kids’ particular favorites, Wow Wow Wubbzy and Oswald — time for Mommy to get a 30-minute window where their rapt attention was on the TV.
Within that music, I could almost hear the sweet laughter of my babies. The sounds of them playing together. The thumping of little feet and their shrieks of glee as they chased each other around the house. It contained the realization of just how quickly it all went — of how, even though the days back then seemed interminably long, the years were in fact heartbreakingly short. (No mother of little ones wants to hear this, ever, but it’s true.)
The melody brought to the surface a jagged awareness of just how many aspects of my kids’ baby-and-toddlerhood I actually do miss. It isn’t the mundane tasks like tying shoes and cutting up grapes into teeny pieces. What I miss is doing those things with the knowledge that I was the center of their entire world. Always the first person they’d run to, ever the safe place. The one whose approval and attention they craved the most. Back then — though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and couldn’t have — I wasn’t in competition with games and friends and the diverging interests of young men discovering who they are. I wasn’t awash in the sense that, with every passing second, they get a little further away. As a mother of young kids, I often wished for silence … but never the silence of an empty house, which I now dread more often than not. Because I know it’s coming, and if the past ten years are any indication, it will be here before I know it.
Hearing a song from your own childhood makes you nostalgic. But hearing a song from your kids’ childhood, at just the right time, can break you into pieces.
In my heart, my babies are still here, but in reality, they’re gone. And I manage to deal with that, mostly.
Until the Oswald theme song comes on.