One morning in August, I heard ear-splitting screams outside the house. I had that automatic panic-stricken feeling "A child has been hurt." I raced to the window, only to see our 5-year-old next door neighbor, Bridget, walking down the street. Her shrieks were deafening. She walked on, the noise shattering glass in people's windows, setting off car alarms, and causing neighborhood dogs to bark. Her mother walked wearily behind, saying to onlookers, "It's her first day of kindergarten. She doesn't want to go to school. She doesn't want to ride the bus, even though her grandpa drives the bus. Bridget doesn't like change."
More and more I feel like Bridget, and I think, for better or worse, I've passed this along to both my girls. When Lucy was 14 months old, we took her on our first official family vacation to the beach at Saugatuck. She loathed every minute, other than the part where Darren swung with her in a hammock. The whole place was like a picture postcard: a lovely golden beach, gentle lapping water, striped beach umbrellas, happy families splashing in the lake. Lucy hated it. She cried when Darren tried to take her into the water. She cried if I sprinkled the tiniest bit of sand on her piggies. She cried when we took a walk. She cried when we tried to give her a bath in the bathtub at the cabin. Mostly what I remember about that vacation is being awakened every morning by her little hands grasping the soles of my feet--the cabin bedroom was so small, her portable crib was pressed up against the bottom of our bed. She was so relieved to go home to everything familiar.
Elaine seems to have the same dislike of change. When she was born, unless we were holding her, she never wanted to leave her carseat. I think it reminded her of being in the womb. A lot of it was understandable: she had reflux and would vomit if she laid flat on her back. She was premature and quite small, so the closeness of the carseat made her feel more secure. I tried to get her acclimated to her crib, but she hated it. I guiltily let her sleep in every night. I would lie in the big guestroom bed beside her, with her carseat on the floor so I could reach down randomly every few minutes throughout the night and check to see if she was breathing. This went on for almost four months. I began to have visions of her being 3 years old, still sitting in her infant carseat with great, long legs dangling over the sides. (These are similar to the visions I have now of having to pack a bottle in her lunchbox or Lucy having to go to kindergarten in Depends fastened with duct tape.)
Like I said, I'm not much different myself though. Maybe I am getting melancholy because fall has come, but it's such a bittersweet thing to watch my little girls and to just want to preserve these moments in amber so I can keep them and relive them whenever I want. Maybe that's why I write this journal. Like the way Elaine is playing on the rug now and she does a move that can only be described as yoga's "downward facing dog." Or how her blond hair sticks up in a little mohawk. The other night I was undressing her for her bath, she was scrambling around naked on the bed, and Lucy exclaimed, "Elaine! You look like a wild mouse!" And that's what we call her now; it fits so well, our little Wild Mouse. But someday she'll be a little girl with hair that lies flat, and we won't call her that at all--I'm already missing her wild mouse days and they're not even over.
And Lucy herself. I can't say I wish that all of age 3 would stay with us, but I want to keep forever moments like the other day when she and I took a walk around the neighborhood, hand in hand, savoring the crisp fall air and the changing colors. She said excitedly, "Mama! Look at the squirrel running and swooping up that tree!" When we neared home she said, "Can we get some apple slices and milk and sit out on the front porch together and sing?" So we did--several rounds of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, plus one she had composed herself (along with a dance), which consisted of numerous verses such as "I'm a little cherry/pear/almond, etc." She stood on the front porch, petted one of the stone lions, sang and danced completely unself-consciously, and I thought, "Now. Right now. I want to keep this forever and ever and ever."
Any sort of change makes me feel trepidatious and a little panicky. The night before we brought Elaine home from the NICU, I rocked Lucy on my lap in the dark and sang along with the lullaby CD that she has listened to before bed ever since she was an infant. We rocked and rocked and sang and sang and I kept thinking, "This is it. This is the last time I'll have only this little one in the dark with me. Starting tomorrow, everything will change. For better or worse, we'll be a family of four" until she finally looked up at me and whispered, "Mama? Can I get in bed now?"
Of course, most of the time, the change in my life and theirs is for the better. I know I would be sad if they didn't learn and grow. But sometimes, like this week when I had to put away Elaine's tiny baby outfits and buy her some new 12-month clothes, it almost becomes too much for me. I kept her in size 2 diapers for so long until Darren finally said gently, "Babe, she really does need size 3," and I wailed, "But if I do that, pretty soon she'll be going to seventh grade!" I was only half kidding.
One of the songs on the lullaby CD is called "Seasons," and (surprise, surprise!) it makes me teary every time I hear it, which is often because now Elaine goes to sleep every night with it. I guess it's how I really feel about change, even though I'm always fighting it. I sing it to my two babies and hope to gently guide them through this constantly changing world with its sentiment:
Seasons come and seasons go
Things will change and this I know
But these remain as always true:
God is good, and I love you.