A few months after my daughter was born, I began preparing her and myself for my return to work and her start at daycare. I printed off the twenty-six pages of registration forms for her school, and I sat myself responsibly at our dining room table with my newest Precise v5 black pen (these details matter) to begin filling it all out. In the very first line, marked “Parent Names,” I automatically began writing “Nancy and Rob…” and then paused. This form, this requisite piece of paper was not asking for my parents’ names. Embarrassingly, I realized that actually, I was the parent.

66c78c5b85763a4e03b666676583fc6aAnd just like that, with some scribbling through of my parents’ names, I shifted from baby (truly, I am the baby of the family) to true adult. I wish the shift had actually been that simple and easy. But I am finding in adulthood that one of my continuous laments is that I am no longer the baby; I am no longer the one cared for. I do the caring. I do the Carter’s onesie poop stain removals. I do the groceries. I (will) do the chicken-soup-when-she’s-sick. I respond to the cries in the monitor, to the requests for “more” or “milk” or “up” or “dubai” (still trying to figure that one out). I do the pediatrician and shot records. I do the medicine and the fever checks and the thermometer-up-the-butt. I do the crib sheet changes because she peed through her diaper. I do the Toddler 411 note-taking to make sure we’re not raising a tyrant. I do the car registration stickers (okay, my husband does that). I do. I do. I do. Perhaps this season most of all–when the to do’s feel longer and weightier as I’m charged with the responsibility of making sure the house and family is full of joy and peace because hi it’s Christmas and the house must smell like gingerbread and pine needles and magic elf dust–is when I most feel the pain of all the doing, and I wish for a second that I had someone bringing me a bowl of tortilla soup or brushing my hair back from my face or just putting together that 100-piece toy kitchen I bought on Amazon Prime.

This lament of mine reminds me of a piece I’ve taught nearly every year in the classroom: “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros. The short story chronicles a little girl on her eleventh birthday, as she describes how on this day she doesn’t quite feel eleven, but in fact she feels all her previous years wrapped up into one.

“What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are–underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three. Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.”

Cisneros’ message makes me want to cry because it so clearly grants me the grace to feel like I’m three every once in awhile. Maybe I am three.

So in that moment when I’m sprawled out on the floor of my daughter’s playroom while she plays with a dog toy, exhausted from a 5 AM monitor wakeup call and the fact that my husband has two morning services and a vestry meeting and won’t be home until late afternoon, it’s okay to let myself be a grump. I might be feeling six.

Jesus came, after all, that we might be freed from the law, perhaps even the law that says to act our age and not our shoe size. Which is fortunate, because sometimes, I really do feel eight.