Passing the advice baton

September 09,2008
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

T. and I went to the library before picking up L. yesterday, and ended up with two armfuls of books--including one amazingly perfect picture book for L. (even though he's eight now, he's not beyond a good picture book). This one was Violet the Pilot--all about a gutsy, smart, and different girl who spends her time making airplanes out of junk. While I was checking out all the books, T. catapulted herself over and over again across one of the easy chairs in the lounge, and a nice motherly lady looked up from her newspaper to smile at T.

"How old is she?" the woman asked me.

"Four and a half," I told her, just as T. knocked a tray of bookmarks off the table, pulled the seat cushions off the chair, and began arranging them, fort-style, around herself. "Yes," I added, "four is an interesting age."

The woman found this hysterically funny because, as it turned out, she has a four-year-old, too. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Exactly. It's funny how you only have to mention one or two things to a parent of another four-year-old girl to elicit an instant bonding reaction. We shook our heads together and laughed about age four.

"Enjoy it, though," the woman told me. "I have a twelve-year-old who wants nothing to do with me now."

And that was a sobering thought, really--the idea that, come a few years, my bubbly and clingy and companionable T. (who wants to spend every minute of her time playing Maya the Dinosaur) might want nothing to do with me. I'm prepared for that, I suppose--we parents have to begin preparing ourselves for that day--steeling ourselves against rejection and I hate you's and slammed doors. Maybe in eight or ten years I'll watch another mom with her young daughter, or with a leggy eight-year-old son, and I'll hand her the same advice--carefully and gently, like a fragile baton passed from one woman to another: enjoy it while you can, don't wish the days away. I can't even count how many times a virtual stranger has smiled at me and told me to live in the moment. I think we parents really need the passing of the advice baton--words from others of the been there, done that variety. Parenting can be isolating and taxing, and sometimes we can feel alone in all the challenges, and need a friendly reminder that we aren't.

We left the library in the nick of time, really, because T. had become decidedly loud and delirious with tiredness (she's still getting used to four days/week of preschool), our arms filled with books, and T. skipping on ahead with T. is for Terrible (poor misunderstood Tyrannosaurus Rex) clutched under one arm. Four is good, and eight is, too--even if I can't always see all the goodness that's right under my nose. I hope I can enjoy all the other years ahead just as much, and that maybe time will slow down for a change, so I can dig my heels in and stay for just a little while.