I am almost always about to cry.
Anything can set me off. A cereal commercial. A photo of a baby sleeping next to a puppy sleeping next to a kitten sleeping next to a mouse (not sure if this exists, but if it did …). Roger Ebert’s review of “Tree of Life.” Videos like this. Sentiments like this. Basically anything that alludes to how quickly time flies, how deep love goes, and how hard we all work, every day, to create magic worlds for our children, ruled by swing sets and beaches and ice cream and being thrown up in the air knowing you’ll always be caught.
But before you form a mental image of me weeping uncontrollably onto my laptop as I write this, wiping my nose on the nearest baby, let me clarify that I usually don’t shed tears. I just get that sharp, pre-cry pain inside my nose and a lump in my throat.
Not just baby stuff. If you have posted a photo of a sunset, some wise quote from a famous dead person, or a pic of sandwich you once ate and really enjoyed, you probably made my nose hurt.
All of a sudden, I am super sensitive to joy and pain. Even a modicum of joy and a pinch of pain. It’s like becoming a parent has triggered some secret machinery deep inside my limbic brain that ramps up the emo production.
I used to be a nice, sarcastic person. Now, I try to make glib jokes about my children, like, “Oh they can’t even string a sentence together; they’re morons.” But inside my head, I’m thinking about Jem’s throaty laugh and Bran’s wonky teeth and Finn’s spidery arms and legs wrapping tightly around me. And I’m wishing that they would stop growing so fast because when they do finally string a sentence together it will probably be something like, “Ugh, mom, your breath stinks; stop kissing me” and then I will slink away and die of a broken heart and periodontal disease.*
I didn’t instantly feel this way as soon as I had kids. It took a minute for my heart to grow three sizes. But when it did, the love I finally felt wasn’t a pure, elemental type of love; it was a big, messy pile of emotions like fear and protection and hope and pride. A huge amount of pride. It’s amazing that you can observe a little human doing nothing for hours and feel anything but boredom, but you do. You feel so damn proud.
I know Matt feels the same. We look at our children and we see how they are little reflections of us, smoothing out the bumps in our beauty and righting all our flaws. The first time they smiled and laughed was a serotonin bomb that wiped out everything bad that came before it. We’ve cheered for them as they take their first steps, we’ve kept a stiff upper lip as they trade bottles for sippy cups, and we’ve crept in to watch them at night, sprawled in their cribs, suspended in sleep. We’ve tried to freeze moments, capture them in amber, as life rushes us onward all too quickly.
(Except the moments when they are screaming at us because we are taking too long to cut up their bananas. Those moments can go to hell.)
Matt and I created a playlist that we put on at breakfast most mornings, and there’s a song on it that goes, “It’s a big world, baby, and you’re little for a little while.” And every time I hear it, I think, “Ain’t it the truth,” and then I get a pang and a lump and I have to mentally punch myself in the face and go back to attending three squawking boys who aren’t thinking about how our time here together in babyland is limited. They are living in the moment, and in this moment they want to eat. So the surest way I can show them how much I love them is to shove a big glob of oatmeal into their pieholes.
Kids, man. They are wonderful, rascally little creatures. They grow up way too fast. And I need to blow my nose on one pronto.