Before my son died, I was a schedule nazi. My daughter awoke hourly at night when she was a baby, and getting a schedule together (as well as money spent on a sleep consultant) made me into a drill sergeant of time. I would admonish someone for putting my child down 15 minutes late for a nap. Hell would rain down from the skies if my husband, or any relative, woke my child up before the allotted time. Construction work, car alarms and unsuspecting visitors were my arch enemies. Travel to my mom’s house? We better be driving during a scheduled nap and the kids better get to sleep on time. Want to invite us to a dinner party? It better be at 4:30pm, and we’ll be leaving by 5:30. If my kid falls asleep in the car, we’re never visiting you again. Having a birthday party? Don’t just give me a bowl of Pirate Booty and call that lunch. And by the way, I don’t think those strawberries you’re serving are organic. Typing it all out here, I understand what an asshole I was.
Then my son died. My world stopped, and parts of it never started going again. It started at the very beginning, when we drove back home from my mom’s house with an empty carseat in the back. I often wonder what it was like for my daughter to look beside her and see that empty seat. We stopped at In N Out on the way home. I didn’t give a shit that my daughter was on her 12th grilled cheese for that week. She missed several days of school. When we returned to her class, I carried her instead of having her walk by herself. She hugged me tightly, one arm around me and another arm clutching to one of my son’s shirts. I gave no one eye contact.
Over the next several weeks and months, things became “normal”–a new normal. Our new life. But the Time Nazi was gone. We go out to late dinners sometimes. I don’t care what she eats at a birthday party. If she wants to go to town on 25 pixie sticks, go for it. I knew I was a changed woman when I voluntarily taught my daughter how to shoot a pixie stick in one go and not get the top of the straw all spitty so that the artificially colored, processed, chemically treated sugar gets stuck in the straw. You celebrate, baby, and I’m here to tell you how to do it right.
Last summer, we all went for ice cream. My son wasn’t even a year yet, and had to watch while his parents and older sister dug into delicious cones right in front of him. He desperately wanted a taste. I had gotten a dark chocolate scoop. In a moment of chill-the-F-out, I leaned my cone over to his mouth so he could have a taste. Oh my God, he went crazy. He loved it, continuing to beg for more until it was all gone. That was the only time he ever had ice cream.
There is a balance now that I didn’t have before. I let my daughter have a real life, not one dictated by my own geographic social norms and the expectations of random moms. There was this pressure I used to feel before that is just gone now. I do what’s important to me and for us. We go to late night things sometimes. We live a little. She’s already lived harder than I ever would have wanted for her. She will never be the same. None of us know how long we have. So yea, eat a god damn pixie stick at a party. Go nuts.
We went out to dinner the other night with friends in the city. We went to a nice restaurant and didn’t even sit down until probably 8pm, when normally she would be in bed. I would have had a heart attack a year ago over this. We walked along the city streets at night. She saw the energy that I used to enjoy in my 20’s. We smelled stale urine on the sidewalk and I warned her not to drop her teddy. We heard a blood-curdling scream far off in the distance. It was an adventure. She ate food she’d never had before and had dessert. Yes, she was tired, but she did well and had a great time. I ate most of her pasta and all of mine, reveling in the rich taste of high quality morsels while simultaneously not paying for a babysitter. We put her to bed at our friend’s house while we sat and chatted for awhile. We got home at 11:30pm. She was tired and grumpy, we skipped brushing teeth and taking a bath and she went right to bed. She woke up the next morning happy and healthy, with a fun life experience under her belt.
I still put her to bed on time most days. I still make her try new vegetables and sneak an exorbitant amount of chard in her pasta sauce. We brush, we floss, we read, we playdate. We do all the things we did before our life changed. I just do it without the stick up my ass. Most of the time, that is. If you wake my child up from a nap, I’ll still cut you.