Today I would like to write about one of the more subtle benefits of being childfree. If you have nieces or nephews, or if there are any children in your life that you love, you may appreciate this observation.
As a proud aunt who adores her nieces and nephews, it has always struck me as interesting that I seem to notice and appreciate the little things about them more acutely than their parents do. I've mentioned this phenomenon before - the fact that every little nuance of the childrens' development and their every antic registers with hubby and me right away and garners an instant reaction (usually hugs and kisses are involved). I can recall almost everything about them from the day each of them was born, to when they started talking (and the funny things they said, like "sometimes he DO's that"), to their physical changes...for example Little Man's hair which changed from thick, wavy black hair, to fine straight blonde hair within the span of 2 years, to my niece's "twinkle toes" when she puts her feet up against mine to see how much closer in size to mine they have grown since our last visit. I get a kick out of the eldest niece when she corrects me with her teacher-like voice, "Actually, Aunt Mandy..." I notice (and love) all of it.
So when I came across a blog post, written by a mom, in which she laments the loss of memories about her children, it reminded me again of this subtle benefit of having children I love in my life, but not being a parent.
She describes a scene in which she is at the public pool, observing a little boy and his mother. She realizes in doing so, and noticing all the adorable things about the child - his fatty legs, his palpable excitement over the water - that she cannot really remember those types of fine details about her own childrens' early days.
I kept wondering if the moms were paying attention, really paying attention, to their children. Did the little boy's mom notice his mouth shaped into an "O" of delight? Did the baby girl's mom take note of the gaping distance between her baby's sturdy legs—all curves and rolls—and my seven-year-old's lanky limbs with their sharply defined calf muscles, their bruised and knobby knees?Without realizing it, this blogger is eloquently touching on yet one of the many downsides of being a parent - the fact that the day-to-day minutia and - dare I say it - drudgery of parenthood procludes a person from really savoring the special moments and memories of their children and truly taking it all in. This has never been lost on me. From what I have observed, parents are so overwhelmed, overloaded, exhausted and consumed with moment-to-moment survival that those fleeting moments that bring hubby and I such joy and amazement, are met with vacant gazes by the very people who brought the children into the world.
Really, my question was this: Did I pay attention when my children were that little? Because, while I know they did ecstatic drunken-man circuits in the wading pool or under the yard sprinkler, while I know they learned to walk on fat-rolled legs and marveled at tiny surprises—feathers and shells and grass, the sound that newly shod feet make on gravel—I can't easily conjure up images of how they looked and moved and sounded then. And I wonder, is this just the way it is? Is it impossible to really, in a palpable way, remember each stage of our children's lives, no matter how much attention we pay?
...I pay attention anyway, as much as I can amid the necessary distractions of schedules and chores. This dynamic is just one more reminder of how foolish and full of paradox this endeavor is, this bearing and raising of children. We welcome them knowing that one day we will say goodbye. We shelter them so that eventually they can leave us. We create boundaries with the expectation that they will test them. We give them all that we have and are, so that they will be able to get along without us. We pay attention, though we cannot possibly remember all the sights and sounds, the scents and textures, the baby steps and joyful dances that mark our days as the parents of children.The moment I see my nieces and nephews, I drink them in. I size them up. I put them against me and see how much taller they have gotten. I watch them demonstrate their latest dance moves. I sit and listen to them - I mean really listen to them - and the nuances of their thought processes and expressions as they grow and learn and become more enmeshed in the world. I feel their hugs and notice they feel stronger, just like my niece or nephew is bigger and stronger. Because I don't see them every day, each change in them registers accutely. I am not weighed down with the day-to-day mighty responsibility of keeping them alive, happy, healthy and fed, so my moments with them are zen and I am truly in the moment. I notice every little change in them and file them away in my mental Aunt catalog...memories which I easily conjure up and treasure.
I do remember each of them in the fatty leg stage. I can picture them clearly waddling to and fro. In my mind, I can hear their toddler voices speaking to me. I can visualize them at each age - what they were doing, how they looked, how they reacted to the world around them. I remember it all. I am an involved, devoted, yet unencumbered adult force in their lives, so my mind is a clear, relaxed slate for the kids to etch themselves upon.
Their writings will be etched in my mind and heart forever.