Last Saturday was Le Petit's seventh birthday. I'm a little ashamed to admit that the biggest event of the day for me was finally picking up my new car: a shiny Citroën C3, which I've been driving for a week now almost as nervously as a 16-year-old with a newly-minted license. For Le Petit, the highlight was the visit to fountain and fireworks show in the château's gardens, for which he stayed up (gulp) three hours past his bedtime. My in-laws accompanied us, we celebrated properly earlier in the day with champagne and foie gras, and I couldn't quite believe that seven years had passed since I became a mother.
This Thursday, my husband went off for four days to a baroque music festival near Narbonne. I stayed home with the kids, since planning a four-day excursion without them was too complicated, and attending concerts with both of them unthinkable. I was mostly being a good sport about it. Last night I was even relishing the change of pace, and congratulating myself on getting both kids ready for bed thirty minutes ahead of schedule.
Today, though... today violent thunderstorms were forecast in the Paris region, as well as everywhere else within day trip striking distance. I didn't feel up to attempting a museum with a three-year-old. We'd go to the mall, I decided instead, buy clothes for a friend's wedding we'll be attending shortly, and do our grocery shopping. By ten in the morning I was in a terrible mood; the kids were fighting over everything, scribbling on things that weren't meant to be drawn on, screaming. My husband happened to call. Why oh why hadn't he taken out the recycling before he left? I scolded, as I wiped up dribbled milk from a badly-closed milk jug in front of a half-emptied recycling bin. It wasn't about the recycling. It was about everything else.
How many times do you need to ask a seven-year-old to put on his socks? How many hours does it take to get two kids to the breakfast table, or out the door? I wanted to hide in another room and just read a magazine, or be able to take a shower without negotiating a preliminary ceasefire, but no. We finally went to the supermarket after lunch, and both kids wanted their own rolling basket. Mademoiselle wandered off once or twice and I had to search for her briefly but frantically. Le Petit grabbed items out of his sister's basket and put them in his own when she wasn't looking. They both insisted vociferously on carrying the same block of cheese. My children are loud, and I feel like I only barely have them corralled when we are out shopping; I do my best not to lose my patience but by the time were were back in the car I Lectured them both with a capital L: my father the lawyer could hardly have done better. It was still stiflingly hot, and I was grumpy that the threatened/promised thundershowers still hadn't arrived and we could have done something worthwhile outside after all.
Le Petit looked disappointed, truly. To his credit, he had honestly helped me out at the end, loading items onto the belt from the baskets at the checkout as I filled three heavy bags. He wanted so much to be good (sage, the word in French, is so much more satisfying). I proposed a do-over.
After dropping off the groceries, we went back to the BHV, the department/hardware store which is my happy place of sorts. I needed a strange kind of light bulb, a drain snake and other odds and ends and had a vague idea of hitting the craft section for some rainy day supplies. And... both kids were wonderful. Le Petit set the tone, being helpful, attentive, listening to me immediately, compromising when necessary with his sister. We bought big capital letters for them to paint tomorrow -- the first letters of their names -- and they are both so excited. As we drove home fat, heavy raindrops finally started to fall on the windshield.
After dinner, an involved search for a lost Lego, bedtime, ten goodnight kisses and two glasses of water, after cleaning the kitchen and putting the house back together, it was finally quiet. I swept the floor. I considered folding laundry. Then I went into Le Petit's room, as I'd promised to check on him, and heard him breathing slowly in his sleep. I'd checked on him earlier, and rubbed his back when he was half asleep; he'd seemed so reassured that I was there and it had made me so happy that when I came back a second time I bent over to kiss his head in his sleep. In the dark I missed his forehead and accidentally kissed his ear, which woke him up briefly. He rolled over immediately and reached out to hug me, whispering good night again.
I feel like what I owe my kids is to see them really truly the way they are at any given moment in time, and understand what they need from me there and then. I want them to feel understood, really truly understood. That's the theory. In reality, at many a moment in time I'm worrying about what the woman next to me in the supermarket aisle is thinking, or I'm forcing myself to put down the smart phone (but I barely got to browse the web all day!), or I'm working down my to-list, or I just don't want to listen to another seven-year-old observation or answer a three-year-old "why?" I don't wanna get down on my knees and play Lego. I don't wanna drink another pretend cup of tea. Don't wanna don't wanna don't wanna. Bad attitude mommy.
Tonight through the open window of the kitchen in my mostly-silent house I heard two things: the music from the fountain show (the rain had stopped) and the brief cry of a baby. As I leaned out the window to hear better, I found myself jealous of the parent with that baby, wishing it was me who was comforting an infant in the middle of a hot summer night, nostalgic about how time slows down and all the priorities you have shift or disappear because someone small needs you and no one else. I never thought I'd miss that. I know that some day I'll miss the way my kids are now. I don't miss the relentlessness that comes with it... but I now know that I'll forget that part.
Tomorrow is my do-over.