The other night, Zuzu and I took Cooper on a walk around the neighborhood after dinner.
It had been a typical evening--not bad, not great--in terms of feeling the just-got-home crunch. I pull in the drive way after working all day and driving 30 minutes to pickup the girls, and then I unload the girls and all our stuff out of the car, and instead of getting to just crash on the couch and re-calibrate for a moment, or pour myself a glass of wine and grab a cookie, I immediately feel pulled in many directions at once because everyone NEEDS something from me.
Cooper needs to be fed. Coco needs to nurse. Zuzu wants a snack, a toy, a show, a prize, a visit from a babysitter, a particular dress-up dress. I need to start a load of laundry. I want to change my clothes. Sippy cups from daycare need to be washed. Diapers need to be rinsed. And all of these demands really need to be met at precisely the same time, the moment we walk in the door.
I sound like I'm complaining, but really I feel bad that it's not my favorite moment of the day. I feel bad that sometimes thinking about that post-driveway, pre-dinner timeframe fills me with dread. I'm happy to be home and with my family (or I know that's how I'm supposed to feel), but mostly I feel tired, stressed, like my head will explode from listening to the whining/crying, and resentful of David who is still in his car alone and enjoying a podcast (nevermind that he's probably sitting in traffic, wishing he could be home with us). Oh--and of course I also feel guilty for having all those negative feelings.
So I psych myself up. I take a lot of deep breaths. I smile because smiling makes you feel happy. And I prioritize like I'm an ER nurse dealing with worst-case scenarios first. Coco and I both want to nurse, and her crying is louder and more stressful to me than Zuzu's whining (plus she's harder to distract), so that takes priority. Zuzu's snack comes next, and poor Cooper has to wait until I've chopped an apple and given the baby a graham cracker--then I run downstairs to feed him and start the laundry.
That half hour or so when we first get home and everyone has ALL THESE NEEDS and is so LOUD about expressing their needs can really take it out of me.
The routine is getting easier as the weeks go by, but on this particular night, the weather was beautiful, dinner was finished and cleaned up, I had done all the mothering I could cram into two and a half hours, and I just wanted to get out of the house by myself for a little bit before bedtime.
But of course Zuzu saw me put the leash on Cooper and wanted to come with me.
There was a time when we seriously could not take Zuzu on walks around the block because she always expected that we would walk to the park and play on the playground and when that didn't happen, she would have a colossal meltdown and it just really didn't seem worth it to us to listen to her scream and watch her writhe in the stroller, pointing toward the park with fury.
But although she certainly has her difficult moments, turning 3 has been a good thing for us. So many people said 3 was worse than the "terrible twos" but that just hasn't been the case for Zuzu. Her ability to rationalize and accept explanations is SUPER helpful and a great improvement.
In fact, I was just thinking about how nervous I was about coming home from the hospital with Coco and facing long days at home by myself with a new born and Zuzu--who was two years and five weeks old when Coco was born. That was Zuzu's most difficult stage--she had so much energy and force of will, and yet limited understanding and self-expression. I remember taking her to the library that October and being so frustrated with her behavior--that I'm sure was developmentally typical, but felt just totally A-hole-ish to me.
She can still be A-hole-ish, but so far I am loving age 3 way more than age 2. So I told her to go put her shoes on, and off we went. The experience on this walk (eleven months after the library visit that made me swear never to take her anywhere out in public ever) was totally different. She held my hand, and we just talked.
I mentioned that I heard the cicadas and asked if she heard them. She replied, "Oh yes! And maybe mosquitoes, too!"
At one point, she wanted to let go of my hand and walk next to me, and I could just see how grown-up and independent she felt.
We chatted briefly with a neighbor whose dog was outside, and she noted that the dog was Cooper's friend and asked if maybe they could play together another day.
We talked with a neighbor who was out picking up a squirrel's nest that had fallen in her yard, and Zuzu was so interested in how the squirrels built the nest, and whether they had been inside the nest when it fell, and where they would live now that this nest wasn't in the tree, and what their new nest might look like, and why we couldn't see it.
(It's not lost on me that if I'd been alone, my exchanges with these neighbors would probably have consisted of "Hi." "Hello.")
It's such a cliche, but I love seeing the world through her eyes. I love that a walk through our neighborhood feels like an adventure. I love the way I find myself looking for things to comment on and the way she takes our conversations in unexpected directions. I love her quirky and sometimes hilarious attempts to understand how things work. She's just such an interesting little person, and I probably think that mostly because she's my own kid, but the way her mind works fascinates me.
(Sort of related to this is the fact that one of her teachers got her hair cut and she told me that Zuzu kept asking, "Who cut your hair? What was her name?" like she wanted to name of the stylist, maybe as a recommendation, or possibly to get that person into trouble. Her intentions were unclear.)
Last night, I thought I wanted a ten-minute escape from the obligations of my family at home, but really I just needed to get outside for a new perspective on parenting. This was the fun part of being a parent--not making dinner and cleaning it up and listening to kids whine for cereal instead, but just walking and talking about dogs and squirrels and mosquitoes.
These little moments don't always happen on a typical weeknight, but when they do, they're really, really good.