Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Yesterday, my daughters asked to watch videos of themselves as babies. I’m so grateful to a past version of myself for making these videos; I love watching them as much as the kids do.

In one of the videos, I filmed a long sequence of the girls at play. In the clip, a two-year-old Y.B. stands at her play kitchen “feeding” a doll in a high chair. She works with great solemnity and contemplation, crooning to the babydoll, offering it various treats from an array of pots and pans.

All the while, the onscreen A.N. is a blur of activity. She pushes a chair around the kitchen, crowing. She swings her stuffed lamb in my hanging silverware caddy. She pulls her potty down the stairs and tries to interest Y.B. in “taking a bath” in it.

Watching this video rips me up a bit. These little people are familiar to me: Baby Y.B. with her seriousness and nurturing, Tiny A.N. plotting zaniness. But these two-year-olds are also gone forever—Y.B.’s round, soft cheeks; A.N.’s staggering walk. I will probably never have two-year-old twins again. And these particular girls will definitely never be two again.

* * *

This bittersweetness has been on my mind a lot recently. First there was Jenny’s translated excerpt from Chana Katan’s memoir, where the author writes about her remorse at missing much of raising her 13 children (!) while she worked as a doctor. My own parents have been expressing a more subtle sense of regret, something more like not having realized how quickly all of this, the raising of young children, goes by.

But it seems to kind of go on and on when you're in the thick of it, right? Bitterly so. I’m inclined to believe that the sweetness can only be appreciated in retrospect.

And yet. I feel awful when I watch these videos taken just a couple of years ago. I feel like I had something wonderful that is gone now, and I didn't even realize it. I realized enough to film it, at least. But I didn’t fully grasp it. Feeling that way chips at my skepticism just a little.

* * *

I took my girls to the playground yesterday morning. I was only with them for a half hour before a teenager came to take over so I could go to a shiur. For as long as I have been taking my kids to the park, watching them has meant keeping an eye out that they don’t kill themselves or someone else.

Today, I decided to take that thirty minutes to really watch my daughters, just enjoy seeing them having fun together and negotiating their interactions. I observed them, wondering which parts of them will pass away into the air, which parts will stay with them for life.

* * *

My favorite parenting moments, the exchanges that seem to have some aspect of eternity in them—they are one-on-one moments with my kids. The most effective discipline and education also happens this way, in the intimacy of a quiet conversation with one child. But even though I try to carve out these times with my kids, most of my parenting consists of issuing directives or flinging requests at a buzzing crowd that I address collectively as “children.”

I have two five-year-olds and a three-year old. I didn’t intend to have them so closely spaced, really. Infertility treatment resulted blessedly in twins, and a happy surprise resulted in B.A.’s appearance before the girls turned two.

From where I sit, it seems like a lot of fun to be one of three close-in-age siblings. But sometimes it also feels less than ideal to parent them this way. All the more so because I didn’t grow up in a family like this one—I’m one of two kids and my sister and I are five years apart. I didn’t even know any families like this until I was an adult. It feels like I’m inventing something out of whole cloth most days.

It’s so easy to miss what’s going on with any one child at any moment, simply because they are all so insistent and demanding, and because I have the attention span of a hummingbird. But right now, I’m trying to notice opportunities to connect deeply with my children, even if they don’t happen under ideal circumstances.

This was last night: I was trying to nudge A.N. through her bedtime routine (she’s also a hummingbird) while a toilet-training B.A. demanded his potty prize even though he’d only been sitting on the potty for two seconds and I was trying to convince him to try a bit longer and he was yelling and Y.B. was trying to get my attention trying trying TRYING LOUDER and when I turned to listen to what she was saying, my earring hit her in the face and I was sure she was going to start complaining about that and then instead she said:

“Ima, your earrings are SO beautiful.”

So I just stopped. I stopped and looked her in the eyes. We smiled at each other, and I said thank you, and tried to show her with my face how much I appreciated her saying so. I let this linger a while before I gave her a kiss and went back to giving up on B.A. and shepherding A.N. into brushing her teeth.

I know some pain and regret are necessary, a part of the deal. And many aspects of raising small children are just unpleasant to live through; I don’t care how precious my mother says they are in retrospect. But I don’t want to let that overshadow the sweetness I’m living. I want to notice and grasp onto what I have while it’s still in front of me.


tziporah newman said...

:) love it! i hope to be given the opportunity to get married soon and be a mom one day and do the things u are doing! regards to ur hubby!

Shoshana Kordova said...

the most succinct summation i've heard about this aspect of raising kids is: the days are long, but the years are short.

Rachel said...

I know I do not know you as more than a passive observer once or twice, but I have known your husband for a long time. He actually told me something a long time ago in NCSY that has stayed with me all these years later. He said "you never get this minute, this moment in time, back again." It is a value I have tried very hard to incorporate into the last 15 (ok, maybe more) years of my life. I only have have one beautiful little girl, and one whose neshama was too good for this world and went straight to gan eden. Every moment I spend with my 8 year old is a moment I treasure that I know I can never, ever get back. Every birthday, every school mesiba, every purim costumes- these are pictures that flash like old slide reels in front of my eyes when I least expect them. And they make me happy to have had them, and sad that I will never have them again. Sometimes I think of moments that I have not had yet- her bat mitzvah, her wedding, her children, and I get sad that I will only ever see those moments once. I get jealous of parents who have more children and who can live these moments again and again. Then I stop and remember that it is THIS moment that counts. How I use this second to talk to my daughter. To teach her something. To show her something and watch her eyes light up.

I owe your husband a huge debt of gratitude that I know I will never be able to repay, so I try to do what I can to make sure I teach her to make every one of her moments count too. And it is working.

I am linking this to my google account, but it is not hard to find out my real name from there. It is in the sidebar of the blog.)

Chaya said...

Hi Rachel. Thank you for sharing that with me. Your comment really gets to the meaty essence of what I'm feeling about all this. I just took a look at your beautiful and wrenching blog. I am filled with a desire to reach through the computer and grab your arms and just bless you with the fulfillment of every prayer. I hope we get to meet up in person soon. Take care.

Chaya said...

Thanks, Tziporah. I bless you that it should be soon. I'll pass along the regards.

Rachel said...

We sat together at a wedding in Buffalo a number of years ago :) We live in RBS and both my husband and I think very highly of your husband- we have, infact, hired him as a private tour guide when we had family come to visit. We would love to get together at some point and shmooze. I keep seeing the kumsitz invites but as I am in my year for my father and until just before that we did not have a car it was not particularly practical! said...

a perfect article, thank you chaya...

pamela opper said...

Well, Ms. Hummingbird, you stayed in the moment long enough to be with your lovely daughter who noticed your beautiful earrings. That is fluttering your wings without moving. What a gorgeous moment.

Chaya's husband said...

Chaya: what a beautiful post, as always. Sometimes I feel bad that I'm often gone most of the day, and you're stuck with most of the daily child-rearing tasks (especially the toilet-training; well actually, that I don't feel so bad leaving to you). But you also get to have more of these special moments with them.

Rachel: I'm glad to have helped you so many years ago. You should know that I'm inspired by you too! Thanks so much for sharing.

Tzipora: may you be blessed to connect with your soulmate soon!

Jen said...

Hi Chaya,
What a beautiful post - I always so enjoy reading your thoughts, as they always seem to be exactly what I am dealing with or working through at that moment.

I also, thank G-d, have a bunch of small kids very close in age - as in one a year for four years, it's okay you can laugh :) and very often - like hourly - I feel the pull between being in the moment with them and experiencing them individually and as they are as opposed to a group called "the kids".

This summer we were so blessed to have an opportunity to all go away together and just be. We have no day camp, no playdates, we're just one tight family unit and while its very hard to focus on the moment as opposed to making sure no one is getting hurt, it's so worth it. I was so nervous about being together 24/7 but it has proven to be the best thing we have ever done for us as a family and a couple.

I, too, try to video the kids to have memories, but often, I find myself weeping when I watch them. It's hard while parenting little ones and it's hard looking back too and wishing I had spent more time just sitting on the floor and being in the moment.

Thanks again for sharing, you're awesome!
Wishing you a beautiful Shabbos Nachamu,

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