It is no secret I've been counting down the months to the big three O since Ava's second birthday. This is an important age here in Vancouver. New windows of opportunity start opening up everywhere. She now qualifies for date nights (evening childcare programs) as well as different community classes that no longer require parent participation. Most importantly, she meets the minimum age requirement to attend a certified preschool.
While this is all fine, good and totally awesome in a lot of ways, I am just now starting to realize something else. My little girl is growing up. Not only that, she is doing it right before my eyes.
At the moment, I am having trouble processing that Ava is capable of having a real conversation. Not just a funny collection of words and disjointed phrases, but a "how was your day" exchange. In fact, when she wants to be, she is extremely articulate and well spoken. It is obvious she understands the importance of "please, thank you and you're welcome" and has even begun saying "sorry" like a true Canadian.
My uncle Jim gave us some good parenting advice a while back that went something like this:
1. Only say no when it is absolutely necessary.
2. When it is absolutely necessary to say no, mean it.
The art of communicating with a toddler can be a blessing and a challenge. While I respect the fact that she has STRONG preferences as well as clear and concise opinions, it is a daily challenge to balance what is mission critical and what is not really "absolutely necessary."
For example, Ava is extremely passionate about the clothes she wants to wear. Currently stuck on a trio of princesses (Cinderella, Ariel and Tinkerbell) and totally obsessed with a worn out pair of rainbow pants, getting dressed in anything else is a major chore. She only wants pink and/or purple barrettes in her hair and even cousin Judi can't get her to button or zip her jacket. When it comes to pajamas there are only two acceptable options ... Woody or Buzz. If I am late on laundry we can expect a heavy twenty minute negotiation filled with tears. Not really mission critical type stuff but the start to finish process of getting dressed simply should not take two hours.
As far as food is concerned she lives on breakfast and "snacks." It is like pulling teeth to get her sit down for lunch and dinner. The best thing on her plate has suddenly become "something else." While I try to convince myself that as long as I continue to provide healthy options for her she will eat when she is hungry, it goes against all my motherly instincts not to try to encourage her to chew and swallow on a more regular basis.
On other notes, she requires that "Big Bear" make the trip up and down the stairs at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. She never wants to take a bath (this of course means bed is next) until the tub is filled with bubbles and I find myself talking to plastic dolphins loud enough to catch her attention. She will only let you start to read the first few pages of a book before she wants to take over and you can forget about watching anything from beginning to end on the television.
We have been working on potty training for several months. After learning she gets to pick out a gummy bear for every successful attempt, we average ten attempts a day, of which only two or three are actually successful. Last, but certainly not least, here we are close to 1,000 days into this thing and our daughter still hates (and I mean HATES) going to bed. She will resist sleep with everything she's got in her, not once, but TWICE a day.
As Darrin says, it is a miracle anyone survives parenting. In an attempt to maintain some level of sanity I have to step back and laugh at myself once in a while. Just when I think I have a situation under control she inevitability throws a curve ball into the mix. The next thing I know, I find myself negotiating, pleading and downright begging with a two year old for something as simple as a freakin' sock.
I can't help but wonder how our lives would be different if I did go back to work. If Ava (and soon Evan) attended day care 8am to 5pm, five days a week. What if these challenging moments were softened by the absence of time together. Would I be more patient if I knew we only had an hour in the morning and three at night? Would I be happier? Getting dressed would take five minutes because there would simply be no other option. Perhaps eating dinner together would be fun because it would actually mean something special to her.
It is only after thinking this through that I begin to see the hidden seconds tucked within the stressful moments. The times when she has lifted her arms into the air and started turning her naked body in circles while singing "a dream is a wish your heart makes" at the top of her lungs. She will spin until she gets dizzy, fall to the ground with laughter and then look up at me with those bright blue eyes and try (whole heartedly) to convince me that she IS Cinderella.
Just this morning she surprised Darrin and I by getting up on her own, coming down the stairs and wishing us "good morning" at the foot of the bed. I can't help but think about the times she holds my cheeks with her cold little hands and out of the blue tells me I look beautiful. By far, the most precious of them all are the five seconds when the noisy world goes silent as she whispers in my ear, "I love you mommy."
I'd be lying if I said I don't miss the relationships I had b.k. My career, my friends, the theatre, visits to the spa, dining out at fancy restaurants, fine wine followed by shaken martinis (or vise versa) and quality time with my husband have all taken a back seat for a while. However, I've just started to realize (after two and half years as a parent) that this is all quite temporary. I will have all of those luxuries back in my life one day. Undoubtedly at that time, I will focus more energy than not thinking about how much I miss these days. Those adults only candlelight dinners I dream about while sweeping up green peas and Cheerios will be most likley spent reminiscing about "when the kids were little."
With the start of preschool Ava has begun her life-long journey of formal learning and self enrichment. Although it is only three and a half hours each morning it isn't likely that these hours will decrease in the years ahead. Just like that, a third of our day is being shared with new friends, teachers and experiences. Like with so many things in life, I couldn't wait for this come and now I am already starting to miss those hours ... and the seconds in between.
Even as I try to type this post (one handed with my laptop precariously balanced behind the sleeping newborn boy on chest) I am reminded how often I catch myself just trying to get it done, to make it through and simply survive.
Evan just started squirming and I caught myself thinking, "ohhh please don't wake up, please, not yet, I am almost done here." As I took my eyes off the screen to look down I saw his little hands crossed perfectly over chest with his eyes closed ever so sweetly while sleeping peacefully. It wasn't that long ago that Ava was this size, snuggled up with me, silent and still. Something tells me it won't be that long before Evan is taking bribes to exit his Spiderman suit.
Ohh, I hear Ava waking up from her nap. I'd better run upstairs. Now that I know she can open her door and come down by herself, I sure miss greeting her warm little forehead with a dozen kisses at her bedside.
Below are some memories from the previous month and our first Christmas as a family of four.
Christmas morning! Ava asked Santa for a big dolphin, a shark and sea otter. Looks likes she made the nice list this year.
New Year's Eve on the Olympic Penninsula at Port Ludlow: