“1, 2 . . . 3, and 4.”
We’re at my niece’s birthday party, and every five minutes, I am mentally counting heads. Specifically, my children’s heads. In the midst of a large gathering of kids and adults, my four humans seem so tiny, swept into the sea of ready arms of my extended family, and out of my sight.
“1, 2, 3 . . . 4.”
No sooner does one child land back at my side or in my arms, another goes forth with a willing relative more than happy to relieve me.
I feel a little lost and unused to the fact that I can eat uninterrupted.
I drop my plate like it’s hot (it actually is, for once!) and scour the room for the twins. Now three, they are still being carried around like the precious cargo that they are by relatives who don’t see them often enough. Somehow, I’m convinced that they’re abandoned near the children’s play area, dangerously close to the kinetic sand that they will put in their mouths (even though I know they’re not two anymore and aren’t interested in eating sand).
Ah, they’re safe, one with my mom, the other with my aunt.
I can’t seem to relax.
If this is what it’s like at a two-hour party where my children are off doing their own things without me in the picture, what will my mental state be when they are 18 and actually old enough to do their own things without me in the picture, FOREVER MORE?
The invisible lines between me and my children are thinning. It’s an inevitable part of parenting, where if you do a fantastic job of this, they leave you. Your good parenting thins that line.
That line starts the moment they are conceived. The cord that nourishes them in-utero is tangible. When they were babies, it was easy to feel close to them. Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cuddling, holding, carrying – there was no let-up in physical contact. The line sees no deterioration as they enter toddler-hood; I am still their safe landing place. But once they’re past the age of two, signs of wanting to be independent begin to emerge (it’s no coincidence that the ages of two and three are the toughest on us for various reasons).
My eight-year-old can do many things on his own. He reads, writes, and does multiplication. I am at once proud, relieved, and strangely nostalgic. His younger brother is five going on 13. I am proud and slightly mortified that he makes fart jokes and mystified at his obsession with Pokemon.
The twins are three. I still think of them when they were tiny and vulnerable in the NICU. I felt deprived of holding them the moment they were born which is probably why I breastfed and co-slept with them until they were 14 months old.
I’m still desperately clinging to that line connecting me to my children, the pieces of my heart who are tearing through childhood.
Unsentimental as I am to their school milestones of preschool, kindergarten, and soon, first and third grade – no tears, only proud smiles – I already know that I will have a hard time with them leaving home. It’s ten years away, you say, such a long way away!
To me, that is a mere 520 weekends away. Ten birthdays away. A mere blink of an eye.
The passing of time, the speedy growing of children, my increasing panic at that fact – inevitable.
The invisible line that connects me to my children will either wane or strengthen, and that is up to me. What we do now matters. The time spent with them, the times that we let them go, whether on their own or to the safe folds of family and friends, it all matters.
A version of this essay was originally published on BonBon Break.
Alison Lee is the co-editor of Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets or More and Multiples Illuminated: Life with Twins and Triplets, the Toddler to Tween Years. In another life, Alison was a PR and marketing professional. Alison’s writing has been featured in Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, Mothers Always Write, Feminine Collective, The HerStories Project, and DrGreene.com, and has essays in two anthologies. Alison lives in Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).