It’s been over two months since I wrote this post about feeling unloved, or at least unliked, by Jackson. Intellectually, I knew it was a phase, but it was a phase that had been going on so long, especially relative to Jackson’s young age, that it was hard to truly imagine a time when he would… you know, enjoy being in my company. Or at least not tell me to go away almost any time I approached.
Happily, the anti-mommy phase is shifting, if not altogether ending. Jackson still prefers Drew to me, but that’s OK. He gives me loving hugs and calls for me at night when he can’t sleep or first thing in the morning when he wakes up. The other day, when he came home from a playdate with his babysitter, he ran over to my desk where I was working and he threw his arms around me and said, “I love you, Mommy!” Mavis, his sitter, told me they’d been at the library where they had just read a book called “I Love My Mommy,” so it wasn’t completely unprovoked, but it melted my heart anyway.
In my last essay, I talked about how difficult it could be to feel so unappreciated despite doing so much for Jack, and I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or if he somehow understood that I was sad — and why I was sad — and that he could make me feel better, but shortly after I wrote that essay, Jackson started thanking me a lot. Without being told to, he thanks me when I cook him meals or pick up his toys or help him brush his teeth or even do his laundry. Stuff you wouldn’t think a toddler would even notice, let alone appreciate, he thanks me for. It’s not all the time, or even every day, but it’s a lot, and it makes me so happy. And it’s not just me he thanks. When we talk to my parents or sister on FaceTime, for example, he’ll routinely find a toy or book or item of clothing they’ve given him and hold it up to the screen and say, “Thanks, Nana!” or “Thanks, Papa!” or “Thanks, Auntie Allie.” It’s so sweet, and it helps balance the times when he is completely bonkers in a way an over-tired 2-year-old can be as he screams at me about how I cut his sandwich the wrong way (or worse, screams at me to cut his sandwich and then screams that I cut his sandwich when he decided he didn’t want his sandwich cut after he told me to cut his sandwich).
One of the things I started doing to sort of make our time together feel more special — like something he should be enjoying — is to name it. It’s simple — I call our time together “Mommy and Jackson Day” and we have Mommy and Jackson Day every Wednesday and Friday. Those are the days that Jackson’s babysitter doesn’t come (he’s with her Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday mornings) and he spends the whole day with me. Weekends, of course, are Mommy, Daddy, Jackson Days, but Wednesdays and Fridays are just for the two of us. And sure enough, as soon as I started naming our time together and talking about it as something to look forward to — something I was looking forward to — he got excited about spending time with me. “It’s Mommy and Jackson Day!” he’ll say excitedly on Wednesday morning, and I know that, even if/when he has a terrible toddler tantrum, at least at some point in the day he was happy, and he was especially happy about being with me. It sounds obvious, I know — like, of course a little boy would be happy to hang out with his mom, but for many, many months it didn’t feel that way. And now it does. And that’s a really good thing.
In the fall Jackson is going to start preschool. It’s only for three hours, two days a week, but he will probably stay with his sitter the other three mornings a week, which will mean there won’t be anymore designated “Jackson and Mommy Days.” We will still have every afternoon together, and days when school is out or his sitter is off, but our time together will be shorter (and I hope, even more special because of that). I will have more time to work, which I am looking forward to, and more time to run errands or go to doctor appointments or clean the house or prepare dinner or work out or do all that stuff that’s just much harder to do with a kid in tow. It will be nice, but I’m already a little sad about it. First it’s preschool and then it’s kindergarten and, before you know it, he’ll be taller than I am and wearing headphones as big as his face (or whatever kind of headphones will be in trend when he’s 16) and acting like I don’t exist.
Drew and I sometimes fantasize about what our life will be like many years from now when we’re empty-nesters — how we’ll fill our time and keep busy. If we’re lucky, we’ll still be in great health and good shape, and we will do the things we aren’t able to do as easily now. We’ll travel a lot again and throw grown-up dinner parties and sleep in until 10 or 11. I’m looking forward to that time in the way you look forward to something that is so far off it seems like just a fantasy. I’m glad it’s not our reality yet. I’m glad we still have this time, fleeting though it is.
I just signed up Jackson for a gardening class this spring at the botanic garden here in Brooklyn. Lately, he’s been really into watering our house plants and asks to do it every day (he doesn’t yet understand the concept of “over-watering.” I suppose, in his mind, it’s like eating too much peanut butter — there’s no such thing), and I’m excited for him to learn more about nature and how things grow — to see that plants begin as seeds and can be planted and grow big and strong as they’re watered and nourished and loved. He will learn, as I am learning, that the things we water and love and nourish aren’t always predictable, and they don’t always respond to our care the way we’d like them too. But they are beautiful — not despite, but because of, their flaws — and they have the immense power to inspire us and overwhelm us and both fill our hearts and break them, at once, over and over.