When my daughter turned one, a family friend gave me a year-long membership to the Discovery Museum, a hands-on play space geared towards kids under 5. I spent a lot of time there with my daughter when she was younger. Even when going meant being painfully reminded of our secondary infertility (I swear, every woman there is pregnant and chasing a not-yet-two-year-old), I still went because it was a great way to kill a weekend morning with my little one.
I haven’t taken my son nearly as much, because we live farther away now, and it’s not a great place to bring kids that aren’t so close in age. By the time my son was old enough to enjoy the tot room, my 4.5 year old daughter was too tall to get in, and all the rooms she could go in weren’t quite appropriate for her brother. By the time he was old enough to go into the rooms she liked, we kind of forgot about the place altogether.
This weekend I took my son for the first time in over a year, because their Daniel Tiger exhibit was closing, and even though my son no longer watches Daniel Tiger much, I knew he’d love to “meet” him. I invited my daughter as well, even though she is technically too old to go into the Daniel Tiger part, but she didn’t want to go, so I ended up just taking my youngest.
It had been so long since we last visited the Discovery Museum that my son couldn’t remember it at all. The morning before we went, I pulled out some of his sister’s photo books to find some pictures of her playing in the tot room. Flipping through those books, I was struck by how different her childhood was than his has been, how fixated on her we were, how everything revolved around her, and us being her parents. We saw so many friends who had kids her age, I made a point of going places with her and doing fun things. I know part of this was because I was desperate just to pass the time with a toddler, but part of it was also because I was completely wrapped up in what it meant to be her mother.
I have of course, not made my son any pictures books. I stopped at 2 years for my daughter so I only have to make him two for things to be equal, but still, it’s probably never going to happen. Besides, I don’t know if I could make him a book that is just about him, and not about our family, because he just hasn’t had that same kind of baby- and toddler-hood as his sister got, where everything revolved around him. His sister is in at least half of the shots of him, if not more.
Hanging out in the Discovery Museum this weekend, after flipping through my daughter’s photo books, brought back a lot of memories. I was struck by how long ago my days there seemed, and how different my life was. All the kids there are so small, most of them in diapers. My almost 4-year-old towered over them (mostly because he’s as tall as a 5-year-old, but also because there are way more 1- and 2-year-olds there). I realized as my son darted around the different rooms, that my 7-year-old would be bored. I tried to get her to come, mostly so my husband could get a break after covering me while I went to work all day Sunday, but also because I thought she’d have fun. My son is now too tall for the tot-room and I was sure we could sneak her into the Daniel Tiger exhibit for the ten minutes my son was interested, but once we got there I realized it was good she didn’t come, because everything there would have been deemed “for babies.”
And that’s because it is. It’s a place for babies and toddlers. And I don’t have a baby or toddler anymore. My kids are getting bigger, and aging out of former staples like the Discovery Museum. That is hard for me to wrap my head around.
When I think back on my daughter’s infancy and toddler-hood the most salient aspect of that time is the long hours, and how desperate I felt to fill them. I was always spending money on toys that might engage and entertain my daughter, always taking her places so that eventually we could come home, instead of feeling stuck there all day. I was always trying to do things, and every day felt like a eternity.
My life doesn’t feel like that anymore. My daughter can listen to an audiobook or actually read a book herself, for a decent amount of time. Even my son can play with his cars for 10 minutes without needing a companion. Sometimes (shock! gasp!) they even play together! We go places now because it’s expected of us, or because it actually sounds like a fun thing to do. My kids have friends they actually want to hang out with. They are two people with their own ideas and opinions. The days no longer feel like eternities (well, sometimes they can).
I don’t know the point of this post, I guess today I was just reminded of how long ago early motherhood happened, and how much I’ve grown and changed since then. Parenthood is changing, and mostly I’m thrilled with how it is different. But today I was thrust back into that time, when everything was new and I couldn’t separate any part of myself from the new, all-encompassing identity of mother. Those years were so intense, and when I was in the thick of it, it seemed like they would never end. But they did, without me even realizing it. I appreciate the opportunity today to acknowledge that, and reflect a little on how far I’ve come. To realize I’ll probably never go to the Discovery Museum again, and that is okay. I look forward to all the new places me and my kids will discover, together.