The Middle Years

by Rebecca on May 11, 2015

When we can’t find my 3-year-old’s favorite stuffed animal at bedtime, suddenly our house is under Code RED emergency lockdown. Nobody in, and nobody out until the precious bunny has been located, retrieved, and safely snuggled in the little dictator’s chubby arms.

Sometimes it’s exasperating. Most of the time, though, I really don’t mind. I love the few symbols of babyhood that linger as my children stretch and grow and become little people. They move through these years so quickly; at lightning speed, they’re abandoning the things that make them little. With next-to-no fanfare, they trade in pacifiers and sippy cups for noses in books, breakable glasses at the dinner table, and grownup flatware.

So when the 3-year-old whimpers for her bunny, I desperately tear the house apart to find her babyhood.

Unless Brooklyn Nine Nine is about to start, because — priorities.

My 7-year-old somehow recently found the remote control of her life and pressed fast-forward. Suddenly, she’s long limbs and missing teeth. She has zero remaining baby fat, and she can make her own lunch. She tells sophisticated jokes, she gets crushes on boys, and the angles of her face are starting to look downright womanly. I love this phase, but it terrifies me how much I’m already forgetting about her babyhood and toddler years as she moves towards adulthood. At night, when I tiptoe to her bed to kiss her sleeping face, I see my baby. She transforms to her 3-year-old self as she dreams. I’m not sure how she does it, but it must be a gift from God to remind me how little she really is.

These middle years of the 7-year-old are strange. She’s not a baby. She’s not a teenager – not even a pre-teen. She’s just in the middle. She can do so much for herself that I begin to treat her older than she is. And then she tantrums like her former 2-year-old self and I get so angry that she’s acting like a baby. She’s SEVEN, for goodness sake. What does she think she’s doing?

I think these middle years are tough on her too. One minute, she wants to do everything herself — Please let me ride my bike to my friend’s house and I can make my own breakfast today and I can get on the computer myself to find the game I want to play and let me let me let me do all these grownup things!

The next minute, she’s curling up next to me, talking in a baby voice about how much she loves me, begging me to snuggle her and read her stories.

We’re all confused. At times I want to hurry her through this phase, and at other times I want to rewind and keep her small.

But nowhere do I see this phase more clearly than when I see her favorite stuffed animals lying around the house.

FullSizeRender

It used to be that she could go nowhere without her gray bunny, Grunny, or her stuffed elephant, Ellie.

Grunny and Ellie were always there — tucked on either side of her in bed at night, one in each arm in the car when we traveled, always anywhere she was.

Now I find Grunny abandoned on the kitchen table long after my sweet 7-year-old has gone to bed. I find Ellie on the bathroom counter — and she stays there for days.

Ellie

It’s scary to me that my daughter doesn’t miss them. While forgetting a lovie at bedtime is a downright crisis for our 3-year-old, the 7-year-old doesn’t even notice. Her act of growing up is illustrated throughout our home in discarded lovies. It makes me sad, as if their worn and soft faces are begging me to slow down the clock and negotiate a few more years of play. You see, they aren’t ready to grow up either.

Grunny 2

Then, after a day or two, she happens upon Grunny or Ellie. Delighted, she shouts their names, scoops them into her arms and pulls them close to her face where she inhales their special lovie scent.

“Do you want to smell Grunny’s ear, Mom?” she asked me the other day. “Right here. It smells so good.”

I sniffed. Grunny smelled like my 7-year-old. She smelled like her childhood. Lydia snuggled her for quite a long time, and then abandoned her once again to ride her bike or read a book or some other such grownup thing.

Grunny and I locked eyes. “She’ll be back,” I promised.

These middle years. So bittersweet.

 

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Today is my 10th wedding anniversary. It’s a big one, and as a writer, I feel this funny need to look within and say something noteworthy about this milestone.

So I started this post three times, but each time it was wrong. In my other posts, I focused on the hard times. I wanted to share specific failures that led me to learn that marriage is better when I care more about how my husband is feeling than I care about being right.

I wanted to share how I’ve learned that no matter how much we’ve been through, and no matter how many inside jokes we have, we’re still two different people. No matter how united we have been or how united we currently are, we are two completely separate individuals who both have funny hang-ups about things.

I wanted to tell you specific fights we’ve had that led us to take Gary Chapman’s Apology Language test, and how that revolutionized the way we communicate with each other.

I wanted to highlight the hard to prove I’ve learned something, to show you I know what I’m talking about.

I’m sensitive when it comes to the topic of marriage. I have a good husband, and because of that I get snarky comments about how nice it must be that he does this or how lucky I am to not have to deal with that.

I’ve allowed myself to get self conscious over the years, and I started holding back on praising my husband or sharing my joys. Not entirely, but a bit. I felt like if I was going to share happiness, I also needed to show UNhappiness. Otherwise, I was just being too Pollyanna-ish.

So when I sat down this time to write about how much I love my husband, I began with a description of a fight to prove my happiness in marriage is realistic. It’s earned. I am NOT Pollyanna.

But it didn’t feel right. I love my marriage. I love my husband. Ten years has taught me a lot. I’ve learned to say sorry when I would rather be prideful, I’ve learned to hug when I would rather walk away, and I’ve learned to think of someone else’s needs when I want to think only of my own. I’ve also learned that joy can be doubled, that tedious tasks can be made fun, and that funny can turn to hilarity when shared with the right person.

But writing this post made me realize perhaps the most important lesson: It’s ok to be happy in marriage, and it’s ok to share that.

Ryan and Rebecca, March 18, 2015

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