Sunday, April 25, 2010

Goodbye Early Childhood

My baby turned 6 this week. Zero to five is early childhood and she is six years old. She is just in regular childhood now.

And oh, but she is. I look at her and see a poised young lady, when she's of a mind to behave that way. A lithe, strong little person who is almost impossible for me to lift anymore.

I look back at pictures from when we first moved to Chicago and see baby cheeks, where now she has bone structure. I look at her and see a girl who notices other peoples' moods and needs and, a lot of the time, cares.

I was having a rough night, a few nights ago. Epu was working late and I was trying to get three kids to bed in one room after a fun outing that ran a little late. The baby fell asleep nursing, but the noisy girls woke him up and he wouldn't settle down.

I bitched and moaned about what they had done. I wasn't acting very mature or poised myself. Nutmeg, in all earnestness, offered to give me the $10 bill she'd received in a birthday card to compensate me for my trouble.

I took the $10, of course. Come on -- that buys three bottles of wine at Trader Joe's, and Mommy has had a lot of rough nights lately with three kuh-razy kids and Epu working late nearly every night in a deadline push that's scheduled to last through fall.

I didn't really take it. But I took the message that Nutmeg, in her new role as Regular Childhood Child, has a more sophisticated consciousness than Early Childhood Nutmeg. You could complain about Early Childhood Nutmeg right to her face and it would just roll right off like water off an otter's fur.

But Regular Childhood Nutmeg? She even gets irony (and enjoys pointing it out to her little sister). Which means that besides all the wonders of her new empathy, her ever-growing intellect and her burgeoning powers of self control, Regular Childhood Nutmeg is breakable in a new way. Something to keep in mind.

So many things have happened in Nutmeg's life this year, and my responsibilities both at home and in my work-at-home mom role have stopped me from sharing most of them. But even when I have time to write, I will probably share less about Nutmeg from now on. She's not an anonymous child anymore, after all. She has a public life at school, and parents and even teachers at her school read Frugalista, my other blog, so they may find themselves here as well. Under those conditions, it's hard to really know what to share and what to keep behind closed doors.

I can share that Nutmeg has made strides this year in her behavior at school. She has grasped that making friends requires that you don't always be the boss, and that melting down into tears doesn't solve conflicts. She still has the occasional crying tantrum -- often at family gatherings or at home and sometimes still at school. But she has logged weeks and weeks without a warning at school -- I check in with her teacher after dismissal most days -- with the goal of earning a birthday sleepover, which took place last night and was a smashing success. That's a post of its own, if it gets written.

I can share that she loves learning as much as I have always hoped she would. She comes home from school full of Spanish vocabulary and songs, and her latest passion is science. She is signed up for an after-school science class that has got her very jazzed. We're working on enrolling her in a special science class for little brainiacs this summer.

We had a little family party for Nutmeg today, and she behaved very well despite having been up Very Late with her sleepover friend last night. I'm pretty psyched about the reserves my new Regular Child has to draw on in such challenging circumstances.

Throughout this whole weekend, I've been telling her what I was doing six years ago -- watching Beach Blanket Babylon, climbing stairs at a fort at the Golden Gate Bridge, showering and getting ready to go the hospital, resting at the hospital and waiting to push. It got a little old after awhile when she'd ask what I was doing and I had to say, "I was still trying to have you." That was a long day, that day six years ago. By the time we got to the "you were being born" part, she had been asleep for hours.

Besides thinking of this weekend six years ago, I also find myself thinking about this weekend five years ago, and the lovely, fun party we had to celebrate Nutmeg's first birthday. Today, I wore the same skirt I wore on that day to remind myself of the day so many of our friends drove all the way out to the Russian River to spend the day on that sunny deck and hit the hot tub in the evening. That was a good party.

Today was a good party too, with the same core cast of characters -- both sets of grandparents, us, my brother -- but missing many dear friends who are so far away now, and with the addition of Nutmeg's new aunt and cousin, not to mention her brother and sister, and none of those four are slouches in the dearness department.

When I look back at momhood five years ago, it seems fun and easy compared to the load I carry now with three of these things running around. But of course I didn't get the big paydays I get now, the moments when Nutmeg comes running from the school doors swinging her lunch kit and coming in to hug Pebbles first, not me. Like listening to Nutmeg and Pebbles in their bed and night, when Nutmeg is patiently complying with Pebbles' request to tell her what rhymes with bookshelf, dresser and window.

I guess I can say that completing Year Six means my graduation from Early Parenthood, too. Rookie mistakes like taking credit for every great thing about my child and judging other parents for their children's problems (Hello, Karma, nice to meet you!) are far behind me. It's not as if Epu and I can claim mastery over the job -- the new challenges that come in are unfamiliar and the tricks we have learned along the way don't always work on them. But, just like Nutmeg can now feel a meltdown coming on and -- sometimes -- reel it in, we have gotten a little better at feeling for the right decisions and wading through the shitstorms when they inevitably blow in. I guess we have more reserves to draw upon now when situations call for us to bring out our best stuff.

Which is good, I think, when I look at everything that still lies ahead: Losing teeth, homework, best friend breakups, rejection, puberty, dating ... I can't go on because I start to get nauseous. It's like looking down from a steep mountain path -- I'd better just look on ahead and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But how 'bout that Nutmeg, huh? What a beautiful, loving, talented, smart, terrific kid. Also, I can't believe she used to be tiny enough to fit inside me. Not only is she so tall and big in body, now, but the ideas in her head and the whole size of her being is so much bigger than that tiny idea of what my daughter could be was when it was just inside my head and my hopes. Nutmeg, you have exceeded our expectations a thousand times over.

2004 party photos by Bert.


Jeevita said...

Wow, a very moving post! Happy Birthday Nutmeg!

Sara said...

awesome post, had me in tears, but maybe that's because my little girl also turns six in a few short weeks.

happy birthday, nutmeg! welcome to regular childhood!!

Bert said...

Happy birthday, Nut! I still remember that first birthday party at the Russian River. It was fantastic! I miss you all so much.

Unknown said...

Oh Carrie I definitely have tears in my eyes. My oldest is only 3.5 but that time has just flown by and we are now in the process of contemplating whether to have a third... Such a busy life but such a wonderful life too.

Renke said...

Oh should have a warning at the top of this post. I just read it sitting at my desk and now I'm trying to hide my tears from my co-workers. What a beautiful beautiful sentiment you have here.

I've just had my first baby, a girl, (we just celebrated her 4 month birthday!) and this post talked to me in so many ways. I know the next 6 years will fly by.

Thanks for something so beautiful. I'll definitely be following your blog now!

Kelli from