On this anniversary of an important milestone in America's history, we are reminded of the many milestones that parents watch their children achieve over the course of childhood. Sharing the joy of watching such milestones is at the core of Roots of Empathy, a program that brings a mother and her baby into a classroom for nine visits over the course of a year. Emily and her baby Sylvie were that mother and daughter for one Roots of Empathy classroom this past school year. Emily originally delivered these reflections at an end-of-the-year Roots of Empathy celebration.
Being a mom is the hardest job I have ever had. The hours are grueling, the pace never-ending, and paid personal days non-existent. In the past four years since I became a mother, first to Max, now 4, and then Sylvie, age 1, I have learned that showering before 4 PM is the mark of a successful day. I have discovered that strawberries are only edible to Max if they are left whole, not cut up. I have become adept at stepping through strewn-about toys WHILE carrying a crying baby and I also know the pain of stepping on a Lego. Barefoot.
However, the truth is, the days are long, but the years are short. When Max was a baby, so many people said to me, “Oh the time goes by so fast!” and I would nod in a blurry-eyed, sleep-deprived stupor. When Sylvie was born, I was determined to slow down, to try and enjoy the days that in the moment can feel never-ending, but in the big picture go by all too quickly.
Being a parent-baby team in a Roots of Empathy class with my second-born was a chance to try and savor these moments a little more, while also getting to experience them with a wonderful class of 4th graders at Bryant Elementary. Every month, Sylvie and I looked forward to coming to see the “big kids”. Their bright and eager faces clustered around the familiar green blanket made us feel like mini-celebrities.
And Sylvie did her job just as she was supposed to, achieving many milestones in front of the kids of Room 308: smiling, rolling over, sitting unassisted, standing independently, and finally, taking several steps across the green blanket. I think the skill most admired by the students, however, was when Sylvie discovered that raising her arms high above her head would result in the class bursting into applause. So she tried it: over and over again. Each time her little arms shot into the air, the children would clap. She experimented-- what happens if I try just my left arm? What if I alternate? And on our next visit, she remembered to try it again. The kids loved watching her learn. Though her t-shirt declared her “teacher”, Sylvie was also learning from the 4th graders surrounding her.
As Sylvie grew bigger and her personality started to emerge, the students and I began to notice her high level of persistence, her determination to communicate, and her mischievous sense of humor. I may have eventually noticed these things on my own at home, but spending time with these students each month allowed me to savor them as they occurred, and to notice them through a different lens.
There are many moments from this past year that I will remember and be grateful for: the way Sylvie knew that Mrs. Soong always had the plastic balls she so loved and she would crawl around looking for them; the time one of our students rang our doorbell to sell us Girl Scout Cookies, and realized it was her “Roots of Empathy” baby who lived there; the time Max and Sylvie and I were crossing a street in front of a school bus that held several of our Roots friends; watching Sylvie achieve milestones in front of the class, and also realizing how much comfort she derived from me as her mother when she felt shy or overwhelmed, yet another milestone.
The end of this year is bittersweet. My baby is now a toddler, walking and babbling and so full of personality. Our days visiting the 4th graders at Bryant with Mrs. Soong and Mrs. Kearney are over, and the kids, too, are moving to new classes in the fall. In this window of her lifetime, Sylvie has changed and grown so dramatically and so quickly, despite my attempts to slow down and savor.
The day to day stressors are still here-- they may never completely leave, I am sure. But they will also change, just like Sylvie is changing. Someday I may realize that I am actually showering regularly in the mornings without consequence, that Max will eat strawberries in whatever form he receives them, that I am not navigating across toys on the living room rug. And I imagine that there may come a time when I miss this stress and chaos, because it will mean that my babies are no longer babies, and that though the days felt long, the years were much too short.