Teetering on the edge of the pond, pink Hello Kitty tutu fluttering, my daughter just might fall into that duck-poop laden scum. That would be unfortunate. I’m sitting on a bench about 20 feet away, watching her, and wondering if I am 20 feet away because I am that relaxed as a parent, able to let my kids explore the world and figure out how not to fall in ponds or if I’m simply too tired to stand within arm’s reach of her. Because I am quite tired, really, not so much from needing sleep as from being sick to death of monitoring the movements of tots.
She dashes to and fro, finding sticks to dip in the water and chattering to the weird looking ducks. I would have taken a picture of the weird ducks, but she broke my camera yesterday. But these ducks have strange pompadour hairdos and she finds them charming.
Another mother is there too. She hovers. Her son, although the same size as my daughter, looks a bit younger, maybe less sure of himself on his feet. In her fashionable, vaguely-Indian print maternity tank top, she is waiting, for her boy to get tired enough for his nap and for her second child to arrive. She is more supervisory than I, standing close, speaking to him often, advising caution and care, pulling him back from time to time. He complies. She is clearly in charge.
Little T? Jumps from rock to rock with heart-leaping abandon, and makes me weary from desperately wishing she would listen to one damn thing I say. I could tell her to stop. To be careful. To come away from the edge. But she wouldn’t listen anyway. There would be a fight, she would get ornery and probably embarrass me. She would say something like “No, damnit.” I’ve tried teaching her not to say damnit, and for awhile she was happy to substitute fiddlesticks in its place. But recently, after she once more said “damnit,” and I cheerfully reminded her about fiddlesticks, she flatly pronounced: “Nope. Damnit.” I’m not really up for seeing my four year old do a truck driver impression in front of a clearly more competent mother, so I eyeball the pond and figure that if she did fall in, she could probably stand up, and knowing her, she’d be so spitting mad that she’d probably fly out of that water looking for something to bite. Hard.
And anyway, a bathtub is only a few blocks away.
The whole scene makes me think about how much I’ve changed as a mother over the past twelve years. I was far more vigilant with my older kids when they were tiny, but the numbers are against me now. There’s one of me and five of them*, and I cannot muster the energy to pilot the Mommy Helicopter, and my kids may be running a bit to the wild because of it.
I wonder. Am I less worried because I am more experienced? Or because I’m too exhausted to bother?
*Technically, it's 1 to 5 when my dear husband is out toiling away in the world instead of helping me fight the good fight against our offspring. But then, even when he's around, the odds are against us. It's us against them. War isn't pretty.
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