A wise friend of mine sent me a card after my baby was born in which she wrote, “time does fly, although the actual minutes are never ending.” The front of the card is one of those faux 1950’s pastel paintings of a June Cleaver-ish mother happily feeding her infant while her other child helps hold the bottle. The caption reads “The first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest.” I keep that card hanging over my desk where theoretically, as I writer, I write, but in reality, as a mother of a toddler, I pile papers, books, and cards until the computer is buried.
I’m forty-two years old and my child is twenty-six months old. My concept of time has changed over these last two years, from a perspective where I had a handle on the concept to one where time has become a mystery. On one hand, I can’t believe my child is almost two and a half – what happened to my brand new baby who was two weeks late, her body so overcook her hands peeled with an eerie whiteness that summoned Michael Jackson’s sparkly glove? What happened to that gummy smile that is now a sharp eye-tooth popping grin? What was life even like before my daughter learned to walk, and how come I can’t remember one of those days from only a year ago?
On the other hand, I know when my daughter was a newborn I spent countless hours walking that wailing child around the kitchen, hoping the pattering rhythm of my bare feet would ease her seemingly inconsolable discomfort. I remember rocking in front of the woodstove for hundreds of minutes while I sang lullabies to her. And I remember the one night, where after walking forever with her wrapped tight against my body, I finally collapsed onto the couch and she finally fell asleep on my chest. Many, many nights were endless in ways that surely conjured another dimension.
And if I had a third hand, which lord knows mothers could use, there are still many days where time still confounds me. A rare two-hour naptime passes by in nanoseconds. A minute-long screaming fit from my child certainly lasts two hours. Or my husband comes home from a supposedly long day of work but the laundry to be folded has nary a dent, dishes mounted in the sink have only grown and toys strewn about the living room indicate that not one second has actually passed in a ten hour day for me to clean that stuff up.
Before becoming a mother, I arrived at my desk in the early morning most days of the week. I lit candles to invoke the creative muses, I burnt sage in my office, I wrote pages in my journal, and I worked on novels, memoirs, and poetry. I mused, contemplated, and meditated – for hours. I cringe now to remember how I used to complain I didn’t have enough time to write, since I was a writing teacher then, which included papers to grade and students to entertain. A lot of those mornings, after a full nights sleep, mind you, I’d fall asleep in my chair, sometimes with a finger still on the key board so that when I woke I found pages full of the letter zzzzzz or some strange language like skafha[‘sdf hadfuaaaaaaaad9’d, to indicate I’d been sleep-typing yet again. These days, I can’t even remember what a full night’s sleep – much less a morning with enough time to both write and get in an extra nap – would feel like, but I can suspect that kind of time and space would feel like bliss.
I’m convinced having time to oneself as a mother is the measure of how sane that mother is. I have a friend who lives part-time behind me. She has a daughter about four months older than mine and most weekends that mom is out in the backyard trimming hedges, painting the house, bringing us canteens of soup or plates of cookies, and, one time, making curtains for this, her second, home, because her child consistently sleeps twelve to thirteen hours a night, and naps, still at two and a half years old, two to three hours during the day. As mothers go, this neighbor-mom has a lot of time to herself.
My child has been low on “good sleeper” continuum most of her little life. She’s not the worst sleeper I’ve heard about, thank goodness, but she’s only slept twelve hours in a row at night three times in her life (yes, I’m counting), and most days her nap, which these days happens only about three or four days out of a week, is about an hour and a half at best. Our sleep story is the usual saga for those parents whose children aren’t naturally good sleepers. We tried all the elements: darkened room, feeding before bed, music, nursing, not nursing, earlier bed-time, later bed-time, crying it out, not crying it out. The sleep deprivation for me was unbearable and after seventeen months of getting up at least once every night to try to get my screaming child to go back to sleep, I told my husband, “we’re done” and made him buy a king size bed. We put my kid in that bed with us, and the first night she slept through for about ten hours without waking, even though most of the time she’d be kicking one of us in the back while laying her head on the other one’s chest.
My daughter sleeps eleven to twelve hours a day, total, including if she takes a nap. The point of all this number crunching is that I have much less time than my neighbor, at least three to four hours by my count, in a day, to get things done. At least since my kid now sleeps through the night, I can get writing time in if I sneak around without making a sound in the pre-dawn hours. I actually cherish my few hours in my little office more than I ever did while languishing pre-baby with hours to stare out the window.
So, it’s true: I do often kvetch about not having enough time to write or to do chores still piled up all over the house (the thought of making curtains for my home is laughable). But, in the end, when all the hours are counted, the reality is I’ve gotten to spend more waking, interactive time with my child. And some day, like in only a few years when she’s more interested in her friends or the Internet or whatever other distractions await her, I’ll know these endless minutes and extra hours with my daughter are an invaluable gift, one that cannot be quantified, because time really does fly.