Tomorrow my son Jacob will celebrate his fifth birthday. As the big day approaches, I find my mind drifting back, like it does in the lead-up to each birthday my children celebrate. I think, “Five years ago right now I finished my last day of work.” Or I muse, “Five years ago today I was starting to get impatient.” On Jacob’s actual birthday I will probably think, “Five years ago right now I was pretty uncomfortable, and I’m glad I’m not in labour today.”
Five years ago today was the last full day I spent pregnant. The odds are better than great that it was the last day I ever will spend pregnant. Now I kind of wish I had taken the time to enjoy and appreciate it. Of course, at the time I didn’t know that I was experiencing my final 24 hours as a pregnant woman. Oh, I suspected maybe something was up, with the random contractions that can happen at the end of pregnancy coming a little more often. The truth, however, is that I didn’t think that I had time to deal with any of that. I was too busy nesting.
In fact, the one thing I remember with great clarity from my last day as a pregnant woman was how very much I wanted to cook and clean. I stayed up late slicing cucumbers for pickles, and then I washed the dishes. I wanted to clean my bathtub, too, but by the time I was finished it was too late and I was worried I would disturb my daughter sleeping in the next room. Instead of cleaning I headed to bed that night fantasizing about what I would do the next day. First, I would drop my daughter off at daycare, then I would pick up my friend and we would make pickles. Then, at last, I would clean the bathtub.
At the time I thought of cleaning the bathtub in the same way I might now think of eating a slice of chocolate cake. Cleaning the bathtub wouldn’t be a chore, or even something I would be glad to get done. It would be perfection. I felt another couple of contractions before I drifted off, and I told them to go away until my bathtub was sparkling.
The contractions didn’t go away. The next morning I did go pick up my friend, and we did make pickles. However, as we worked, she kept looking at me funny. She laughed at my inability to stand still. I believe she described my behaviour as being like a cat looking for a laundry basket to have her kittens in. I refused to admit that anything was up, though. I had a bathtub to clean.
As I drove my friend home, a contraction hit while I was sitting at a stop light. The thought flicked through my head that I probably shouldn’t be driving at that moment. Luckily her house was only a few minutes from mine, so I got her home safely, and made it back home myself. I called my husband, and realized I wouldn’t be cleaning the bathtub that day. My son was born about two and a half hours later, just 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital.
Five years ago today, I was too busy thinking about the next thing to think about the moment I was experiencing. The truth is that most of parenting has been that way for me. I’m always thinking about what comes next. What I have to do. What I should have done better. I forget to notice the way my children are sitting together on the couch, heads close together, conspiring against me. I don’t really listen to what they’re telling me. I ask them please to wait a minute, I’m in the middle of something.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with all of that. No parent can devote one hundred percent of their attention to their children, whenever their children ask for it. We have other things to do. Other things to think about it. Pieces of our lives that we don’t want to share. And yet, if there’s one thing I wish I’d done more of, it’s stop to pay attention. Because if there’s anything your child’s birthday does, it’s remind you just how quickly time goes. How one minute you can be fantasizing about cleaning a bathtub, and the next moment you can be watching your five-year-old blow out his birthday candles, wondering where the time went.