It’s late…12:45am on Sunday August 26, to be exact. And Mommy can’t sleep. In fact, all mommy can do is cry right now. And it’s mostly because mommy is sad in a way you just won’t understand right now.
Oh, Natey, has it been 5 years already??? Where did the time go? The first 6 weeks of your life I was terrified. Watching you in that incubator. Spending hour after hour staring at that damn monitor making sure your heart was beating and your lungs were filling and emptying like they should. I’d come in every day by 7am armed with a gallon of mother’s milk tea (iced) and an empty bladder so I could hold you as long as possible. Sometimes we wouldn’t move for 3 hours. Because once I put you back in that box, I wouldn’t get to hold you again for a few hours and that just killed me. I lived in fear that one day I’d walk in and not be able to hold you at all. So I did everything I could to not have to put you down.
When you came home it was the happiest day of my life, but all too soon the rest of the world came crashing in. Meals had to be cooked. Laundry had to be washed. Floors had to be cleaned. The reality was, none of that needed to be done, but I felt obliged. So you would watch from your chair/swing/carrier while all those “necessities” got done. Then I had to go back to work. It was only part time…two and a half days a week. But those two days away from you KILLED me. Every Sunday night I’d cry myself to sleep knowing I’d have to leave you the next day, praying for a way to be able to stay home with you. And by the time you were one and a half, my prayer was answered and I got to stay home with you. It was hard work for Daddy and for me, but we were happy knowing that you were being raised by your parents and not a stranger.
We had a good time, Natey. Weekly trips to Kindermusik, the zoo and the park and our friends. We’d see Gramma and go for walks. We’d lie under the trees and watch the sun through the leaves. We’d get morning buns at La Farine on Fridays. We’d sit on the bench outside and watch the buses, and cars and people go by. You’d drop crumbs to the pigeons. You loved home made soup, dry cheerios, and apple juice. You had LOTS of ear infections. We had lots of rain and you had well worn rain boots. There was lots of scrimping and saving, and more chores as a result of cutbacks, but there was also LOTS of time to focus on being with YOU.
At two we found a preschool, and you found an independent streak. I didn’t know how to deal with the “terrible twos.” You dropped your 2nd nap about 3 minutes after your 2nd birthday. You wanted me to play with you, but not play with you. Just sit there and watch, but not touch and not speak. And so I started to feel a bit restless and picked up some work again. And soon some work turned into lots of work. And by the time you were 3 I was working almost full time, but on a flex schedule so I could still be with you when you weren’t in school.
But was I?
The thing about working, for me, is that I’m never NOT working. You’d want to play and I’d be checking email. I worked a flex schedule so when we got home, while it was rightfully YOUR time, I’d be working and telling you “Mommy can’t right now. She has to work.” That got worse your last year of preschool. And your last summer before kindergarten, it got even worse. I’d planned some weeks for us to do the fun things we used to do like go to the beach. You so love the beach. I wanted to take you to the beach. To just run in and out of the waves and eat sandy peanut butter sandwiches and drink apple juice. But I worked instead. I even brought you to work and left you in the front room, alone, for 3 hours with a iPad loaded with Angry Birds.
And I am so sorry, Natey. You are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than work. And I made work more important. That one week…our last, carefree, preschool week of summer…should have been yours and I fucked it up. And while I’ve apologized to you and told you I’m so sorry and you’ve seen some of the tears I’ve shed over my stupid, STUPID decision. It won’t be until years from now that you fully understand just how sorry I really am. I am absolutely devastated that I wasted the most precious thing you and I have in this lifetime-our time together.
And now that week of summer is gone and that preschooler is gone. In less than 30 hours there will be a Kindergartner in his white polo shirt and blue shorts on my front porch with his backpack and a nervous smile posing for me as I get that “1st day of kindergarten” photo. And while I am SO PROUD and SO EXCITED to see you into this next chapter of your life, I am mourning the loss of my preschooler. I’m mourning the loss of freedom and flexibility we’ve had for the last few years. But, mostly, I’m mourning the loss of my ability to make a good decision and of my priorities and of that one week.
But, Natey, know this. Mommy learned her lesson. I left my career for a reason and that reason is YOU. And it was wrong of me to replace my plans with you for the demands of a stupid job that doesn’t even pay me 1/3 of what I used to make or a job that pays me 1000 times what I used to make. You are my Natey, my gift from God, and my priority. Ensuring you become a happy, well adjusted, productive man one day IS my priority and mommy will never make that mistake again.
It’s likely I’ll cry when it’s time for me to leave you at Kindergarten. But now that I’ve gotten this off my chest and can walk you to school with a new outlook and focus, I can honestly tell you that they’re happy tears. They’re tears that express the joy of being blessed with you, and daddy, and answered prayers. They’ll be tears of pride; proud of how you’ve grown to be so kind and smart and fearless. They’ll be tears of gratitude to God for bringing us out of that NICU to the steps of your elementary school. And they’ll be the same tears I’ll shed on every 1st day event for the rest of your hopefully long and wondrous life.
I love you, Natey.