Last weekend, I took Ethan on what he calls our "Special Mommy and Ethan Trip". And special it was. It was part of his birthday celebration and though his fifth birthday was weeks ago, last weekend was the first opportunity we had to sneak away. We were meant to take a quick trip up to Chattanooga, visit the children's museum there for the day, stay over night and then return home. But my planning took on a life of its own, I wound up making three different reservations for three different hotels, decided to leave on Friday instead of Saturday and added an afternoon at Rock City to our itinerary.
It was quite honestly one of the best weekends of my life. We were totally carefree, the two of us together, traipsing around a new town, exploring the hotel, swimming in the indoor pool, watching movies until midnight. We had no one else to worry about, no one else's schedules to contend with, I wasn't distracted by errands and chores, Ethan had my full, undivided attention. I let him splash around the tub for as long as he wanted, I walked at his pace while he examined the weeds coming up through the cracks of the sidewalks and peered closely at the grates along the roadside, I let him order Sprite ("for special", as he says), I allowed him to lead us instead of expecting him to follow in line behind me.
I felt authentic. Innocent. I felt lighter. Completely carefree. I felt sad.
That's right. Sad. This weekend was incredible. But it was also bittersweet, full of poignant reminders that my little baby is not only no longer a baby, but that my grasp of his childhood is quickly slipping. You see, while we were riding down the elevator to go do exciting things like go for a swim in the indoor pool or going to buy popcorn from the vending machine to eat while we watched the movie we ordered on the hotel t.v., I realized that these things would only be exciting to him for only a short while longer. That soon enough he's not even going to want to share a hotel room with me, never mind snuggle up with me in front of a movie, or hold my hand while walking down the hall to the lobby. I know that this weekend is what I will use as my measuring stick when I hear him say for the first time, "Mom! I'm not sleeping in the same room as you! Gross!". I will sadly, and ever so fondly, remember how excitedly he walked into our room in Chattanooga and saw the two beds and immediately started jumping on one saying, "We're going to be roommates!!!". I will tearfully remember how he pointed to one bed saying, "This one is mine because I like sleeping by the door!!" and "That one is yours because you like sleeping by the window!!!". And the days only got better. Lingering over breakfast in the lobby, meandering through town, playing hard, taking the long way home...I felt so connected to Ethan and so disconnected from all things distracting. That is a good, good way to be, let me tell you.
I will never forget the gleeful grin he wore as we pulled up to the hotel for the first time, how he scrambled out of the car, anxious to get to our room, and how he stopped halfway to the door, took in the moment and turned and looked at me and said, "Do you see how big my smile is Mommy"? I mean, seriously. Does it ever get any better than that?
This weekend was showered with little moments like this. As Ethan says, my bucket is filled up. But I am still sad because in the back of my mind, I know that I will blink, and I will no longer be living these days, only remembering them. I know it sounds like I have him married off and moved out already. And the truth is, I know I have years more of memory making in store for me. But they won't be years like this. That I know for sure. No. These days of hand holding and snuggling and enthusiasm and enchantment and innocence are so very short (and so very sweet). His unbridled excitement, his ability to display all of his emotions (or more accurately, his inability to contain himself)...all of those things endear him to me so deeply that my heart literally aches.
On several occasions throughout the weekend, he told me he wished we lived in Chattanooga so we could "always have this much fun". And there was part of me that wished that too. It was such innocent, simple fun. And it reminded me of when it was just Ethan and I, before we had Eli. It was Ethan and I against the world. We did everything together. I called him my little sidekick. Now don't get me wrong. I am head over heels in love with Eli and I tried long and hard to bring him into our lives. He was an answer to my prayers and he quite literally kept me company during some lonely, lonely times during my pregnancy with him (read: during Adam's heart surgery and recovery). Eli gave me strength when no one else could. But there was a part of me that worried that perhaps I might've ruined the simplicity and security of Ethan's life by having another child. And as irrational as it might be, I haven't had this thought since the early days of Eli's newborn-ness so I'm finding these thoughts a bit startling. And they have been plaguing me. I know for certain I wouldn't be better off without Eli, but would Ethan?
But the reality is that even if Ethan and I lived in Chattanooga, Adam and Eli would have to move there eventually to be with us. And then we'd have to find a place to live. And Adam would have to work. And I would have to do the laundry and cook dinner and clean up after the boys. And life in Chattanooga would take on a very similar shape to the the life we have here, which has its own merits of simplicity. I did take the time to explain all of this Ethan who ever so wisely explained to me that if I needed money to buy food and clothes while living in Chattanooga, I could simply just "bring my wallet" and then I would have unlimited funds with which to purchase the items we need. When I explained that the money would certainly run out he calmly explained that a trip to the bank would fix that particular problem. You see where this is going...
So out of all of this, I have decided two things. One, I am an emotional basket case over Ethan turning five and sincerely hope that six is much easier. And two, I will need to make more of an effort to carve out special time just for him (which I try really hard to do, I think I just need to do more of it...or do it when we aren't at home so I can't get sucked into folding laundry or cleaning or prepping dinner when I'm supposed to be playing Star Wars or Legos). Oh. And I've also decided I need to drink in the moments. With BOTH boys. Which I have totally been doing since our trip and I have to say that although I've been teary-eyed a lot more during the day, I've also been fully aware of my full bucket and a full bucket makes it a lot easier to handle the hairy moments of the day.
What hairy moments, you say? For instance, today, during Tae Kwon Do, Eli wanted neither to be held nor to be put down. What he really wanted was to be allowed to run in the middle of the parking in the middle of a rain storm. And I discovered this as he was already halfway down the sidewalk out to the parking lot where he fell off the curb and skinned his knee and screamed bloody murder for the next 15 minutes while I stood under the awning and had water dripping down my back. Did I get anxious or irritated? No, ma'am. I simply held my little man close to me and rubbed his back and shushed in his ear until he settled down. When he was calm, I went back inside to watch Ethan. And while rocking side to side, fighting with Eli to settle down and doing the math to figure out how much longer I have until he grows out of this stage, I caught a glimpse of another mother in the class, whose boys are Ethan's age, looking longingly at me while I was holding and stroking my little one. Where's that full bucket? Oh yes, here it is. Right here next to me.
A few pictures of my little (or should I say not-so-little) bucket filler on our trip:
The fountain outside of our "ho-towel". He used up every last piece of change I had in my wallet. Every time we walked by it he said, "Can I have a few coins?".
Played for hours at the children's museum. No where else to be!
Ice cream after the museum. I love that satisfied smile.
I swear this bridge looks MUCH much more precarious in photos than it does in real life. And much longer too. I almost screamed out loud when I saw this picture but when I took it, he appeared to be totally safe. I promise. Really.
Our fearless travel companion