I know that Jesus Christ once declared, publicly enough for His words to be recorded in Scripture and preserved for all eternity, this great if daunting dictum: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me.” I took it as a personal mandate to be accessible to and an advocate for children just as Christ Himself was … starting with my own.
On my best days as a parent, I fully subscribed to that spiritual injunction. I lived it, breathed it, and reveled in its wisdom. New York City was a fabulous place to raise a toddler! We strolled to the Guggenheim after playing pat-a-cake in Sheep’s Meadow. We climbed on the statue of Hans Christian Andersen and chased the pigeons around Central Park’s boat pond, happily flapping our arms in shameless if spastic abandon. What could possibly be more fun than that?
Yes, indeed, a child is the greatest gift that God, and life, and my spouse could ever have conspired to give me. I believed that deep down in my soul. But to be perfectly honest, every once in a while I just would have liked the tiniest little break from that gift. Just a wee little respite from motherhood was all I would have asked. I wanted a breather, or as they seem to call it today, a little “ME time.” And if the ME time could have been doled out in small portions of, say, a month or two at a pop, I might have been eternally grateful for just such a well-earned mini-break. I mean, parenthood is hard.
It’s not that I didn’t love rolling out the play dough — made from my neighbor’s original recipe, with only organic wheat flour and the purest dish soap, and militantly devoid of red dye No. 47. Who could possibly grow weary of fun like that?! And I certainly never tired of plopping those colorful plastic rings on whatever it was you called that rocking Fisher-Price stacking toy. Boy, that was exciting … and stimulating.
I especially liked it when Devon stacked the same brightly colored rings on the cat’s tail one day and cranked him down the hall shrieking, “Go, cat, go!” Now, that’s fun.
And it’s not even that I took umbrage at the intrusion of those ever-vigilant Eastside nannies who inevitably found my child to be too déclassé to play with their nattily attired charges. Who knew that you had to buy your size 2 play clothes at Cerruti’s on Madison Avenue to find true acceptance?! (And, by the way, where were the actual mommies of the adorable babies who so excelled in sandbox shenanigans and rode in their $4,000 prams to and from those impeccably cultivated little playgrounds? I never actually met them; but I began to think seriously about donning a white nylon dress and sensible flat shoes so I could better mesh with the nanny crowd on play dates at the park.)
So, tell me if my nasty little parenting secret has some resonance for you. Give me a power salute if you’ve ever wanted to just throw in your mommy or daddy towel for a couple days? Honk if you need some ME time! But then remember this: My children are grown now. The baby is 28. The world of stuffed animals, ubiquitous blankies, wiggly front teeth, and first days of school is long, long gone.
I’d give my eyeteeth to have a child — other than the dog — following me into the bathroom or digging holes in the backyard, or best of all, sprawling on my lap to hear a bedtime story. Treasure them now. Suffer your own little children to come unto you … as often as you can get them to do it. Time is fast a-fleeting, and there will come a day when they won’t.
Debbi David is head of Marymount of Santa Barbara.