This May has put me in a rather pensive mood (though that tends to sound peaceful and quiet, which my life is decidedly NOT). This month my oldest turned 9, my youngest turned 6 months, and my husband and I will be celebrating our 11th anniversary. All of these things are much bigger to me than to anyone else in the world, of course. Even other family members see my son's birthday as just a date, a gift, and some cake - while I see it as an amazing passage of an impossible amount of time. Nine years? Where in the world did nine years go? I look at my six month old and it seems anachronistic because I feel that my oldest was just that size. Really. How could I have both? Not to mention the three children in between! When did that happen? And having a 9 year old, and being married eleven years (officially more than a decade), wouldn't that make me an adult now? When did that happen?
I keep thinking about when I was nine, and the memories that I have are so vivid and full of detail. Now that is my son, and it worries me about my own words, actions, even decorating! I remember going to friends' houses and I still can describe what each of their home's atmospheres felt like, what their moms were like, and what my own home was like. Have I made conscious choices to create an atmosphere that reflects me to my children and their friends? Not really. I mostly react to life - flying by the seat of my pants. Suddenly I am looking around and trying to see it all through the eyes of my kids. I wonder where I've taken them in my haphazard journey. Shouldn't parenting be like a planned out, methodological, pedagogy?
But life moves so fast, and kids are so unpredictable. It's like trying to hold water in your hands. Every time that I try to take control and establish systems and order, I find my hands empty and the water flowing down the stream. And so instead of holding on, I guess I just jump in and let it take me along. It is more satisfying to be caught up in the current, drenched in and surrounded by life. I enjoy things more - until I feel guilty that a good parent should be controlling it all - planning it and supervising - so I stand and try to stop the whole river with my bare hands once again.
Alright - enough with the stupid river analogy. The passage of time is a weird thing though. I've heard others say that it seems to move faster as we get older. It does move faster. Though the actual unit of time is constant, relative to how much time we've each been on earth, it moves more quickly by virtue of being a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole. For a one-week-old baby, one day is something like 14% of their life - but for the baby's 30 year old mom, that day is more like .0009%. So when it seems that a lazy day of childhood summer lasted forever, and as adults we can't seem to ever find a day like that anymore - it is true - relatively.
But somehow having kids seems to slow it down a bit. It's as if we can latch on to their relative timeframe sometimes and share that magical almost-stand-still time. I think that is most apparent with babies. I have so many questions about babies, and one of the top on my list is why watching them is so fascinating. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person, and yet I find myself gazing for extended periods of time at that tiny face. What for? I can put in a masterpiece of a movie to watch while holding my sleeping baby, only to ignore the film while I watch my baby sleep! Sleeping!! Not even doing anything!! Why? But I can't help myself. And for those moments, time goes slower - focus gets very clear. And I watch my baby, with her curled eyelashes resting on her velvety cheeks, and listen, completely enchanted by her breathing - as if it is her unique invention and no one has ever breathed before. Maybe that is why we want to have children. Perhaps it is the uniqueness of every moment, and the way those moments step out of our quicker-paced adult time.
Wordsworth covers this arc so beautifully in "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood." I loved the poem when I was in college, but I now realize how little I really understood it before I had kids. I'll sign off with a slightly abridged copying the poem, which is one of my favorites. It's long, but beautiful, so take a moment to read it - every time I discover something more insightful.
"There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yor; --
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
The Rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the Rose,
The Moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare,
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, wher'er I go,
That there hath past away a glory from the earth
Now, while the birds thus sing a joyous song,
And while the young lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound,
To me alone there came a thought of grief;
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong;
I hear the Echoes through the mountains throng,
The Winds come to me from the fields of sleep,
And all the earth is gay;
Land and sea
Give themselves up to jollity.
and with the heart of May
Doth every Beast keep holiday; --
Thou child of Joy
Shout round me, let me hear thy shouts, thou happy Shepherd-boy!
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.
Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six years' Darling of a pigmy size!
See, where 'mid work of his own hand he lies,
Fretted by sallies of his mother's kisses,
With light upon him from his father's eyes!
See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly-learned art;
A wedding or a festival,
A mourning or a funeral;
And this hath now his heart,
And unto this he frames his song:
Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business, love, or strife;
But it will not be long
Ere this be thrown aside,
And with new joy and pride
The little Actor cons another part;
Filling from time to time his "humorous stage:
With all the Persons, down to palsied Age,
That Life brings with her in her equipage;
As if his whole vocation
Were endless imitation
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Thy Soul's immensity
Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind, --
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave;
Thou, over whom thy Immortality
Broods like the Day, a Master o'er a Slave,
A Presence which is not to be put by;
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
of heaven-born freedom on thy being's height,
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
O joy! that in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction; not indeed
For that which is most worthy to be blest;
Delight and liberty, the simple creed
Of Childhood, whether busy or at rest,
With new-fledged hope still fluttering in his breast: --
Not for these I raise
The song of thanks and praise;
But for those obstinate questionings
Of sense and outward things,
Fallings from us, vanishings;
Blank misgivings of a Creature
Moving about in worlds not realised,
High instincts before which our mortal Nature
Did tremble like a guilty Thing surprised:
But for those first affections
Those shadowy recollections
Which, be they what they may,
Are yet the fountain light of all our day,
Are yet a master light of all our seeing;
Uphold us, cherish and have power to make
Our noisy years seem moments in the being
Of the eternal Silence: truths that wake,
To perish never;
Which neither listlessness, nor mad endeavor,
Nor Man nor Boy,
Nor all that is at enmity with joy,
Can utterly abolish or destroy!
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the might waters rolling evermore.
Then sing, ye Birds, sing, sing a joyous song!
And let the young Lambs bound
As to the tabor's sound!
We in thought will join in your throng,
Ye that pipe and ye that play,
Ye that through your hearts to-day
Feel the gladness of the May!
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.
And O, ye Fountains, meadows, Hills, and Groves,
Forebode not any severing of our loves!
Yet in my heart of hearts I feel your might;
I only have relinquished one delight
To live beneath your more habitual sway.
I love the Brooks which down their channels fret,
Even more than when I tripped lightly as they;
The innocent brightness of a new-born Day
Is lovely yet;
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
that hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
- William Wordsworth