I am sitting on a tiny child?s chair watching Kate mush hunks of Play-Doh onto a piece of construction paper. It is a frigid morning in Brooklyn, so rather than risk deadly frost-bite at the playground or terminal boredom at home we?ve come to the local drop-in play-center. For $7.00 you can play indoors for three excellent and exhausting pre-nap hours.
Last winter, Kate took her first tentative steps here, and this winter she works the room like a weary emcee ? careening from play kitchen to tumbling mat to plastic slide. She pushes smaller kids out of her way and surreptitiously eats a piece of fake bologna from the play grocery.
The smell of the Play-Doh is starting to give me a headache and Kate is sneaking bits of it into her mouth, when the woman next to me speaks. She is also sitting on a tiny chair and she looks even more uncomfortable than I do. At first I can?t understand what she?s saying ? I?m still in the child zone and unprepared for adult words and concepts ? then I?m just confused.
?Have you picked one yet??
And I?m thinking noses, apples, majors? but then I remember where I am and I realize that she?s talking about pre-schools. A familiar snake of panic rises in my chest and I am (rare for me) speechless. It?s not that I don?t want the best for Kate ? God knows I want the very best, the very, very best, the most best ever, the best of the best… and then some. It?s just that the selfish rebel in me gets angry and resentful at the idea that I am responsible for planning and implementing her life for the next 18 years. I?m already exhausted by the breathless, super-competitive, psycho-mom energy I?m expected to marshal to make sure she gets into all the right classes, schools, after-school programs and sports teams. I am stranded in the desert of childhood and dancing before my hallucinating eyes are all the cupcakes I will have to bake, the birthday loot bags and gifts I will shop for, the costumes I will buy or sew, the family holidays I will plan, the play-dates I will arrange, the innoculations, the milestones, the toys… And she?s not even two years old yet.
Have I picked one yet?
I know, I know. There are lists and waiting lists and ?play-date interviews,? and evaluations. There are part-time programs, drop-off programs, and caregiver attending programs. There?s Montessori, Bank-Street-Style, Waldorf, in-home, religious, art/sports/dance/music-concentrated. I know, I have surfed the web, read the brochures, talked the talk. No, I haven?t picked one yet. I?m dragging my heels, procrastinating, feeling pressured. I have this sudden desire to eat some Play-doh.
That afternoon, as if she senses how unsettled her mother is, Kate wakes from her nap after only one hour. She is standing in her crib, confused and unhappy, but still rooted in dreamland. I try to lay her back down, a trick that has worked for months, but her newly strong toddler body resists. She throws her arms around my neck and I have no choice but to lift her out of the crib and hold her.
We sit in the rocking chair and I try to swallow my disappointment at not getting more time to work and then sleep myself. As I check off the mental list of everything I won?t get a chance to do now, I realize that Kate has fallen asleep in my arms. I slowly stand up and her sleep-heavy body settles around me. I squat-walk into the bedroom, push the covers aside with my foot, and slide into bed. She rearranges herself around me and sighs. It is a feeling unlike any other: your child asleep, a sweaty head tucked under your chin, the weight of the fluttering heart, the gurgling belly, the flickering toes. A little warm person, part of you, completely dependent, is lying heavily on your chest.
Like two yogis, our breathing starts to synchronize and these deep breaths calm me and begin to give me some perspective. I?d like to move to a farm with Kate where she can see the natural world unfold. Where her beloved kitties and sheepies aren?t just in storybooks but run through the grass and snow. I?d like to travel far from this noisy, fast city where daily e-mails and periodicals tell me about the hundreds of activities I could be/should be doing with my child. I want to turn my back on tickets to The Nutcracker and The Lion King; on mornings at Music Together, Gymboree or Sign-A-Song; on learning music with The Dalcroze Method or Spanish at Juguemos A Cantar; on the new Thai restaurant where they give Kate melt-in-your-mouth rice noodles in a spicy peanut sauce and then take her in the kitchen so she can watch the dumplings boiling. I want to chuck it all to shelter her from the tensions and vicissitudes of city life.
Or is it me I want to shelter? Is it me who needs a farm to run to so I don?t get too caught up? Is it me who needs to remind myself that Kate is a person, not a job for me to get done? She?s not a deadline looming, an agenda item, an unreturned voice-mail message. She?s a baby. She?d be just as bored, happy, grumpy, scrumptious, moody, loving and mischievous on a farm. And I?d probably get very competitive about raising chickens or growing garlic. It does scare me that we might not have enough money to send Kate to the best programs and schools ? or that I might miss a deadline, an application, an interview, and mess up her chances for success. I have to accept the fact that nothing will be perfect, including me and this crazy city we live in. That some parent will always be better organized and I might spend 18 years putting Entemann?s cupcakes into tupperware and apologizing to Kate.
I mess some things up and do some things well. My little yogi, drooling on my hair, teaches me that everyday.