When did four become so old?

I took my youngest to an indoor play space yesterday. A place he has been wanting to return to for quite some time. For many reasons, both good and bad (my laziness) we haven't been. I decided yesterday, rather impulsively, that we would go. While Alexander was in school I did some writing and then packed up our lunches -- cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches on rye, a small pack of potato chips leftover from a Panera lunch, a juice box, some carrot sticks and a small package of cookies for Alexander's dessert.

When my older two were young we went on all sorts of little excursions. At least once a week if not more.
Alexander, it seems, is missing out on being a kid. He's being dragged hither and thither to follow his older sister and brother to this place and that place. He never complains. He never seems to mind. I think he quite enjoys it. He certainly knows no better. But I do. I know what opportunities my older two had at this age.

This is it for me. This is my last chance. My last Hurrah. My last chance to party like it's 2010. This is the last chance I have to watch him enjoying being a little kid. I have decided that over the next few months, while I still have him to myself a few afternoons a week, we will pick out one day each week and go someplace. We'll go someplace meant for little kids. I want him to have the same kinds of memories that my other two have.

Why is there such a disparity? My older two are two years apart and they did everything together. And then they grew up and their demands and needs shifted. I find myself catering to them yet their needs are certainly no more important than my 4 year old who not only needs, but deserves the chance to play like a child, with other children... to express his creativity and fuel his curiosity. My youngest plays well at home and is happy to do so but I see the experiences and the opportunities that he is missing... the excursions to the children's museums, zoos, aquariums... to learn and see things he cannot at home.

What will he remember when he grows up? Will he remember his childhood in the back of the car as we traveled off to sibling play dates and soccer games? Will he look back and not see me playing games with him, but see, instead, a mother always busy and preoccupied with laundry and cleaning and cooking? Will he remember just that he sat on the couch and watched TV?

I want him to remember cooking and painting and making crafts... I want him to remember our little field trips... while we can... before time runs out. School ends in early June and all three will be home this summer. Come September my youngest will be gone to the long days of Kindergarten. The house will be empty and quiet during the week. There will be no toy sirens, blocks tumbling over...no Nick Jr. blaring off in the distance. There will be no sweet little voice saying "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, play with me. Play with me now!" As though now is when it must be because there will be no later. And he's right, because pretty soon there will be no later. And pretty soon even his weekends will be filled with sports and parties and other activities.

Where has it all gone?

I sat on a bench watching Alexander play yesterday. It was quiet in the play space as most of the children had gone home for lunch. There were maybe a handful of other, much younger, children. Alexander towered over them. When did this happen? When did he get so big? When on earth did he become the big kid?

Have these past few years been that blurry? Have I been that distracted? Yesterday he was little... and suddenly this? It's not fair... I want my little back!

Be careful of what you wish for they say.

I was rushing my kids off to school from the minute they were born. I loved having them with me at home and was thankful for the opportunity to be a stay at home mother, yet I yearned for a little free time... some time to be independent and think for myself. Last year Alexander started his first year of preschool. I was so excited for my three mornings a week. Those three mornings would allow me to get so much done. But they didn't and I found myself needing even more time. This past September Alexander started his second year of preschool. He is now at school five days a week, two of the days are full days and three of them are half days. Of course, I still don't have enough time...

And what I am discovering is that I don't have enough time with Alexander either.

Over the past few months I have been wishing Alexander off to Kindergarten so that I could go back to work. We could really use the extra income at the moment. I'm leery of taking a part time job at this point with all our illnesses and missed days this year... with two weeks of Spring break coming up shortly and with a long summer just around the corner.

But really, what difference would a few months really make? I can hold out. I'll find something in September. What I won't ever find again is the wonder of my children while they are young... the wonder and magic of childhood... it really is all so fleeting, isn't it? It sounds so cliche to say that it'll be gone before we know it. But don't I know this to be the truth?

How could I possibly have been parenting for 11 years? How is it possible that my oldest will only be at home for a handful of years? It seems that it was just yesterday she was home, a colicky newborn driving me to tears... Those long, endless, boring days that never seemed to end... Those days of counting down the hours until nap time or dinner time or husband coming home time or bed time... I remember calling up girlfriends and scheduling play dates like they were going out of style because we just had to get out of the house and we had to keep busy or else we would lose it.

I see these same new moms today. They're huddled together in book stores, restaurants and playgrounds. They go shopping and out for walks. They cannot stand to be alone with their young, how long and painful and boring these days are for them now, as they were for me then. How physically and mentally exhausting parenting is in the early years. And how lonely too.

I want to reach out to these mothers pushing their Maclarens and Pegs and Bugaboos. I want to tell them to hang in there. This will all be over before they know it, and they too will feel a little melancholy. I am sure they look at, me as I stroll in and out of stores, a bag or two in my hand, a bounce in my step, as carefree as can be with a teeny bit of envy. The same envy I had a decade ago.

I also want to tell them that I have been there, right where they are. I remember those long and hard and often tear-filled days that seemed never to end. With my firstborn I had Post Partum Depression. I didn't know it at the time. How could I have not? Rebecca was born on a dark and cold January that seemed never to end. I thought her colic and reflux would never go away. i wanted her to grow up. I watched the little girls on the sidewalks with big bows in their hair and tutus over their leggings. I wanted to be there, in that moment, with those little girls. I guess I still do.

It's time... to slow down...