I LOVERMONT (though not so much at 5:30 am)
Z lays just a few inches away from me, taking her first nap in many weeks, maybe months. I study how her eyelashes fan out across the new freckles on her cheeks. I can't remember the last time I watched her sleep from this close up. But I easily remember what it was like to take every nap with her this way, when she was still swaddled and soft-skulled. Now, as then, her breathing is ragged, her body twitches randomly, but "peaceful" is still the word that comes readily to mind.
I cannot nap, though I am bone tired, the kind of tired that only happens here at my parents' lake house in Vermont. My vigilance is ever, ever present; 98 % of me can be desperate for sleep but that last 2 % keeps my nervous system humming, listening for E's waking noises that are sure to come just as I fall asleep.
I am not as tired as I was last summer here, when E was an infant and Z was starting to drop her naps all together. I am not as tired as that first summer as a mother when Z was an infant and I stumbled around in the kind of wide-eyed stupor that is unique to new parents. Those summers I pretty much hated everyone who was getting more than three consecutive hours of sleep. People could complain about work deadlines or plantar warts or deep existential ennui and all I could think was: But you're getting sleep. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT.
This summer is the first time that E and Z are sleeping together in the same room. We thought this might work well, since at home, both girls were reliably sleeping until about 7 am. We prepped Z extensively; she was so excited about bunking with her sister in! the! same! room! that we feared she would wake her sister up to play with her in the wee hours of the morning. What we didn't expect was E waking up shrieking at 5:30 am every morning, causing Z to cover her ears and cry at equal volume "Too loud! IT'S TOO LOUD!". We didn't expect that if that happened, we wouldn't be able to get anyone back to sleep and so our days would start out at 5:30 am with shrieking, crying and pouting. (The former two would be the girls, the latter would be me, of course).
Down at the dock, I can see the neighbor kids, the ones we thought looked young enough to play with Z from a distance but when we went over to say hi we realized they were way too old to be intrigued by our offer of a "playdate at our play structure!" "With popsicles!". Now they are playing in the water, laughing, diving, swimming without any assistance or hovering by their parents.
Their parents sit on long deck chairs, some evidently dozing, others reading books and sipping dark liquids. I squat on the gravelly sand with arms outstretched to keep E from toddling right off the dock as it bumps along on the waves of passing motor boats. My book is lying beside my bed, waiting for the last 20 minutes of the day to be devoured in desperate hungry gulps. I don't hate those neighbors like I might have last summer. I know I will be them soon enough and I try not to wish the time to move faster. I love this phase. I do.
There are no bugs this year, which is the biggest gift you could possibly imagine since some years, the mosquitoes swarm you in huge clouds the moment you leave the house, and singletons attack you from all corners of the house before flying to the ceiling in slow, drunk circles to stay just out of reach until they are hungry again.
No bugs? Beautiful weather? THANK YOU, VERMONT.
My girls are enjoying themselves so much and though our time here still feels a hair or twelve short of what I used to expect from a vacation, their obvious enjoyment makes it mostly fun for us as well (early morning hours excepted).
Sometimes a tiny, self-centered voice inside me hisses that my chance to experience the world, my chance to experience joy, has been replaced by watching my girls experience joy, experience the world. The voice hisses that I would love to spend all morning following my whim and wish, the way they do; going from favorite books to exploring outside to digging in the sand and dumping shovels into the lake to be retrieved over and over and over again. I enjoy doing those things with them, being a guide as they explore the world. There is substantial, indescribable joy in watching them, playing with them, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But in the dark moments, after hours of following and guiding and listening and helping, I can't help but yearn just a bit for my vacation. The one where I get to follow my every whim and wish. (5 hours lying on the couch reading a book until I fall asleep for a drifting nap, followed by a quiet lunch on the dock with the paper, then a hike to the waterfalls, finishing with a swim in the lake and a leisurely dinner, in case you were wondering.)
I dream of finding that elusive balance: experiencing the joy of watching and being with my girls and yet also carving out moments of joy and wonder for myself that is non-kid related. My parents have been wonderfully helpful, my father full of fanciful princess stories and my mother eager to both hold and bounce E and spend hours making tiny clay beads with Z. Tonight CG and I will have a sorely needed date night. It may not be a full week of relaxation, a vacation in the old, pre-kid model, but it's still pretty darn great.