Katrina was at Tonya's all day today, the last of my "treat" Thursdays in which I'm baby-free. I had just Julian all day, which is pretty easy -- I can still get things done, including take a headache-fending nap, make phone calls, update finances, and run a whole bunch of errands.
But it was bittersweet. Usually I relish and savor my unfettered time "off" (and I know I'm in the minority who can see a whole day with a 3-year-old as being unfettered), but an exchange with Gabriel this morning dampened it. I told him I wasn't going to pick him up from school today, and he said "awww," and then told me he really likes being at home in the afternoon. Go ahead, kid, turn that positive-reinforcement method back on me, thanks a lot! His calm, sincere and positive delivery (telling me what he likes, instead of what he doesn't like) had a far greater effect on me than whining or crying.
Then Julian asked periodically this afternoon when we were going to get Gabriel, furthering the guilt. It reminded me how far we've come. The summer before Katrina was born, I still found the boys being alone together very stressful, since there was so much fighting (mostly Gabriel) and crying (mostly Julian). But now, while they still drum up their share of trouble, they're on much more of a par together than they were a year ago, mostly play well together, and generally resolve their own conflicts. Julian clearly enjoys time playing on his own without Gabriel, but his older brother is always on his mind, as he is on mine. Gabriel's absence is palpable, and when we're all together again, the ring is complete. (The reunion of all three kids is relaxing to me in one way, and so not relaxing in about 200 others!)
Indeed, I found myself missing Gabriel this afternoon much moreso than Katrina. You'd think it'd be the opposite, as babies are so compelling and so unbelievably gosh-darned adorable, and when Gabriel was her age, any time away from him I was anxious about (though I relished it too). But time and experience have colored that perspective differently. Now it feels like time with Gabriel is precious; a mere few years before he grows up and has his own life. Katrina's babyhood seems endless at the moment, even though I know it'll go 100 times faster than Gabriel's did.
But it's not just about me. The time at home means more to Gabriel. Katrina is just a baby-almost-toddler, she mostly wants to bop around and do baby things and be served hand and foot, as babies need and deserve. Pretty much anyone can do that. In fact, I've always felt that my being a stay-at-home mom with my babies, and doing things like music class and swim class, was more for me than for them. They'd recover from the absence of those things in their babyhood.
Gabriel now, on the other hand, cares more about being at home, having his own things, interacting with his own environment. I don't mean to say that a stable home environment doesn't matter to Katrina of course, but her needs are more basic sustaining needs (diapers, food, peek-a-boo, numerous rescues from getting stuck under things). Gabriel has more complex and mature emotional needs (conversation, play, activities, downtime, projects). He's old enough now that he'll remember his time at home and with me now, and that things we do together, or apart, make a bigger difference to him.
These musings gave me another wave of irritation at his kindergarten PM schedule, and at myself for not having the gumption to get it changed. It robs me of the last chance in his life of full afternoons with him, though a few months ago, I saw it quite differently -- how could I bear all afternoon with all three alone! But now, I'd much rather have him home in the afternoon. So would Julian and Katrina. Of course, it's not all bad, as I've come to really enjoy the time with Julian and Katrina before the school pickup scramble.
Yet as much as I say I want Gabriel around, here I am writing instead of taking the rare opportunity to play alone with Julian. It's like I want them closeby, but not too closeby. I want frequent and casual interaction, but I seem to be incapable of constant full-on play, like so many Good Moms I know. Can I have my cake and eat it too?
(Actually, I just did, in the form of a Play-Doh "cake" laced with "Vitamin Z" that Julian keeps bringing in the office for taste tests. I've been taking "bites" between writing sentences. It doesn't get more metaphorically perfect than that.)
Tonight, instead of working with Gabriel on his homework (which is fun to do, I like talking to him and he's usually very focused and enthusiastic), I spent some nice time sitting on the floor and playing with Katrina. She was playing with a spiral-ramp toy that she pulls up on into a stand. Quite a few times, she lost track of what she was doing, and transferred a toy from one hand to another -- while standing. Look Mom, no hands! Just split seconds, but she's starting to get the idea of balancing in a stand on her own!
She played with that spiral-ramp toy no less than 45 minutes, too. This afternoon, while I took care of office errands, Julian was quiet for a long time, and I found him sitting and reading a book on the couch. This is why we've never gone the video route to keep our kids busy: we've never really needed to. With two long attention spans, we thought it's probably just luck of the draw, that's just the way they are. A third would say we're doing something to make that happen, right?
Well, frankly, I still think it's just the way they all are. I should know better by now than to take any credit (and hence, blame) for their basic behavior. Katrina clearly likes to interact and play, so I might not find days alone with her when she's 3 "unfettered." But that's not going to happen for another few eons anyway. Remind me I said that in another few blinks, because that's when she'll be 3.
As I was putting her to bed tonight, she stopped fussing flat when she saw her bear in the crib, pointed to it, and very clearly said, "Bay!" I think it's official, we have a first word!