I realize it is irritating to non-parents that parents reveal their children’s ages in double-digit months rather than plain old years.
Prior to Elle, I was mystified as to why a mother would spout “19 months” rather than a much more workable “year-and-a-half.” Get into the twenties, and they would lose me.
Perhaps it is an effect of my lingering self-consciousness, present since third grade, about my mathematical deficiencies. Prior to motherhood, grasping just how old a 21-month-old is would have sent me into that silent, low-grade panic I feel when attempting to leave a 20 percent tip on some unworkable number like 137. I try to keep the calculations in neat and narrow columns on the blank chalkboard in my mind, but before they can be worked out the numbers have wandered off the page and I’m left secretly counting on my fingers.
And so, for the sake of others in that small circle of the mathematically inept, I vowed never to be a mother who kept track of her child’s age in double-digit months.
Yet motherhood changes you, changes even what you believe about bothersome little tendencies like telling people you have a “nineteen-and-a-half-month-old.” Which is what I have. And is what I will tell people, until she turns 20 months.
Why not keep it simple? What’s wrong with calling her a year-and-a-half?
Here’s the thing: She’s not a year-and-a-half. In child-rearing, a month-and-a-half can mean the difference between your kid calling every color yellow to her naming all colors in the rainbow, or graduating from diapers to pull-ups.
Articulating Elle’s age down to the nitpicky half-month seemed additionally necessary for us this month, since her age corresponded with the amount of time we had not been on vacation together.
Yes, it’s true: It had been nineteen-and-a-half months since my husband and I had spent any time together. Nearly 20 months is, well, kind of close to two years, which without needing to do any further calculations equals way too long to go without temporarily removing yourselves from your lives as parents.
Of course we’d had date nights, and even the rare sleepover at grandma’s that allowed us a whole night away from changing diapers and singing the Itsy-Bitsy Spider. We’d taken separate trips away for days at a time. But in nineteen-and-a-half months we had never spent more than 24 hours alone together without our daughter.
It was time.
We tracked down some tickets for the Broncos-Patriots game. Then we booked a cheap flight from Denver to California. Grandma came, armed with pumpkin-carving kits and treats Elle never gets to have when she’s with us. We packed our bags, blissfully absent of things like sippy cups, baby books, and 14 extra changes of toddler clothes. And that was it. We were free, for exactly nine-and-a-half days.
Puling out of Telluride, an empty car seat in the back serving as the only reminder of our newborn freedom, I should have been awash with relief. Instead, what registered on my emotional thermometer was closer to panic. What in the hell do we do now?
In nineteen-and-a-half months, we had evolved from a couple with their fingers on the pulse to two people who desperately needed haircuts and whose fingers were more apt to be prying wayward items out of a toddler’s mouth than checking for the feeble signs of their social life. In a mostly silent drive to Denver I wondered: Had we forgotten how to be adults?
In the following few days, the question of whether I knew myself as just myself, and not my mother-self, returned: Walking into a swanky bistro for lunch, I caught myself scanning the small room for the least-obtrusive place to put a highchair. I found myself taking mental notes of whether the bathrooms I walked into had diaper-changing tables. I had to resist the urge to sneak small packages of saltine crackers in my purse, reminding myself that I needn’t worry about emergency snacks.
What have I become? A woman who considers diaper-changing tables as a top ladies room amenity? A woman who sees a romantic table for two for anyone but herself? A woman with a purse full of crackers?
As Craig and I settled more comfortably into our childless vacation, complete with romantic tables for two (in not-child-friendly restaurants) full days surfing and lounging on the beach (without taking breaks for naptimes,) and occasionally just doing NOTHING but sitting in bed reading a book, I slowly began to feel more at ease with who we are: Parents. Parents on vacation, but parents, still.
Over the course of an adult’s life, a year-and-a-half (or more accurately, nineteen-and-a-half months) seems a fairly insignificant amount of time. Until your first nineteen-and-a-half months of parenthood. Over the course of that seemingly short span of time, life changes at hyperspeed. You go from beach-blanket wine drinkers to cracker hoarders and changing-table investigators. And while you may sense some self-consciousness about this transformation, specifically while feeling like impostors in the world of adults while on vacation away from your child, fundamentally you’re pretty happy about it. Delighted, in fact, especially when you return home from a nearly ten-day absence to be in the presence of an incredible little human being whose existence is completely your doing. And you realize you haven’t forgotten how to be adults, you’ve just learned how to be better ones – stolen Saltines and all.