My Life as a Mom: That Little Girl of Mine
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My Life as a Mom: That Little Girl of Mine

With two preteen sons under my roof, I was thrilled to be in reproductive retirement. Then Jane came along.

Being a Mommy: The Sequel

When I went in for my annual exam before my 40th birthday, my ob-gyn asked me whether I planned to have any more kids. The mere thought of it caused my knees to snap together.

"I guess that would be a no," she said.

I was then living in Austin, Texas, the widowed single mother of two boys, ages 7 and 10. I was certain I was through having children.

The following month I started a long-distance relationship with a divorced dad from Pennsylvania. He also had two kids from a first marriage. Less than two years later I was remarried, pregnant, and living with him and our kids on a farm in a little town called Glen Rock. This life-changing romance had completely rearranged the furniture in my head, and to give my baby-loving new husband a child of our own seemed like the coolest thing in the world.

My daughter, Jane, was born on the summer solstice of the millennium, a month after my 42nd birthday. And while I had used up every drop of patience I had playing Hungry Hungry Hippos years before she was born, while I sometimes feel like the Ghost of Christmas Past when I attend her soccer games, and while it's always a struggle not to fall asleep before she does at night, I love being Mommy again, and having my first daughter makes it extra delicious. I may be permanently fed up with kids' board games and team sports, but many aspects of parenting are even sweeter the second time around, when you know how quickly they will be gone.

Breastfeeding. Taking baths together. Love letters with wobbly, backward printing. "How was school today?" "Great!" The whole Hallmark-card drill.

Whenever I talk to the parents with whom I went through the first round of child rearing, I see how things might have been. These people have become empty nesters. I could work up a little jealousy of their restaurant dinners and weekend trips and grown-up plans, realizing my nest can't possibly be empty until I am 60.

But in the meantime they will have been jealous of me. Because what really is more fun than a long car ride with a little kid, playing Fifty States License Plates and A My Name Is Alice, or yelling in fake foreign accents at the other drivers?

Making It Work

Though going to the theater seems like something you do more of after the children are grown, I don't have the luxury of waiting for that anymore. So I just take Jane with me, something I never would have tried with her rowdy big brothers. She has developed quite a tolerance for lengthy stage productions, like the evening of monologues we recently attended at a little theater in Virginia in which her grandmother Joyce was a participant. Just last night I ran across a note in my purse that she had passed to me during the performance: "Were is the thing with the names of the people and stories?" Ah, the program.

Speaking of grandmothers, the other day Jane and I were visiting with Big Jane, my mom, who is 79 and battling lung cancer. The visit was on a Sunday afternoon, and though I had let my daughter's hair-management regimen lapse over the weekend, it was time to put those ponytails back in before we wound up having to shave the knots off. Having been a famously histrionic "tenderhead" myself as a child has not made me all that much more patient with her, and having only had boys I don't really know what I'm doing. So as usual I start combing and she starts yelping, and this time I come up with a bargain: If she stops kvetching for as long as it takes me to get the knots out, I will do whatever she wants for an equivalent period of time. She agrees to this and muses over her options. Then I am reminded of something I often forget about 7-year-olds, especially the book-reading, theater-going version. Hesitantly she asks, "Can you make Nana better?" My breath catches in my throat. "Nope, not even for five minutes, honey. But that is the sweetest thing I ever heard."

"Okay," she says, "then be a puppy."

I drop to my knees and begin licking her hand and enthusiastically wagging my tail. This is something I can do.

My husband, who as I said gets most of the credit for the existence of Jane, has not missed a chance to revisit all the old favorites of his first round of fathering. When Jane was little he made a cage of his legs for the infamous Baby Trap (involves repeated cackling in a cartoon-villain voice, "You'll never escape from the Baby Trap!") and they soon graduated to the endless hours of pretend games he had enjoyed with Emma, now 20. While he once played all the supporting characters in Robin Hood, he now does everyone in Harry Potter -- except Hermione. This is a man who knows no greater joy than to have his nails painted, his hair braided, and his body decorated with mermaid tattoos by a hysterically giggling little girl. And will go to work that way, I might add.

In all honesty, there's another reason my old friends' marriages look enviable to me. They're working. Though we're both having a high old time with parenting, lately we haven't been doing quite as well in the couple department. It's not been a great time for Crispin and me, and where these troubles will take us I don't know. But even as we go through this storm the rainbow is already in sight. It hangs on our refrigerator, colored in five vibrant shades of magic marker, and it says Jane.

Your Life as a Mom

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Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, April 2008.

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