By Josie Glausiusz
On a recent bus journey to Jerusalem, I realized that I was leaving my two-year-old twins for an entire day for only the second time since they were born. I was on my way to report on a World Bank hearing for the journal Nature on a controversial plan to build a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, and I knew that my children would be fine: they were spending the whole day in nursery for the first time, instead of the morning only.
Still I was concerned. Would they take their regular afternoon nap? Would they be sad when I did not show up, as usual, after their lunch? And how exactly did I turn into one of those attachment parenting thingies that inspire both ire and admiration?
I am not a devotee of the attachment parenting school, though I am very attached to my children. My twins slept in a crib from the day they came home from the hospital (when they were very small, they shared the crib) and I have no intention of home-schooling them, ever. But when I became a mother, it was as if I had been turned inside out, like a scrunched-up flower in bud that suddenly blooms. Until giving birth, my focus in life was myself and my husband, immediate family, and friends. Upon giving birth, my brain seemed to transform itself into an organ exclusively focused on my children. Magnetic resonance imaging indeed shows that parts of the maternal brain grow after a woman gives birth: areas devoted to maternal motivation, emotion and reward processing, reasoning and judgment increase in volume.
Still, I hadn’t planned on dedicating myself so completely to my children. I hadn’t really planned to give birth in my forties, either, and didn’t think I could. But I did. And now, when I tell people that my two-year-old twins are in nursery only in the mornings, they give me a quizzical look and ask why I don’t leave them there all day, as most Israeli mothers do, so that I could return to my freelance science writing career full-time. Which is odd in a way, because in my former home in New York City, most working parents hire a nanny to look after their babies and don’t send their toddlers to pre-school until they are nearly three years old—and then only for two to three hours a day, perhaps three times a week.
I waited a long time to have children. And as my mother once warned me, looking after young children when you are older is tiring. I am tired every day. Really, really tired. I am also really, really fascinated by my children’s brains. Take yesterday’s 15-minute walk home in the stroller from nursery: as soon as we left, we stopped to look at a very large, purple thistle. “Prickly” my boy said. Then he and his sister pointed out the colors of the cars in the parking lot. (Yellow is their favorite.) They counted the doors leading to the houses in an adjacent street. They shouted “big truck” whenever a large lorry went by on Ra’anana’s main road, Achuza Street. They admired the plaster dog outside the veterinarian’s office. We paused to pick up big red blossoms from the pavement: my daughter insists on one for herself, one for her brother, one for Mummy, one for Abba, one for Grandma (in America) and one for Savta (her English Grandma.) She gave some to her brother, who shredded them into pieces and dropped them over the side of the stroller, and clutched hers tightly for the rest of the ride. Just before our arrival home, they ran their hands through the weeds growing out of the wall on the road to our house, saying “weedy, weedy.”
Toddlers are small scientists: fascinated by the world, willing to repeat an experiment over and over again, and not limited by convention or rigid thinking. One evening I watched my daughter lick scrambled egg from the bottom of her overturned plate and thought to myself, well, why not? Who says that you have to eat off the top of the plate, anyway? After all, the Brits eat with their forks upside down, a skill I have never understood, nor been able to master, despite being born in the U.K. So when one or the other of my children is throwing a tantrum, or running up two flights of stairs despite my vain calls to “come back, come back,” or scooping soil out of my neighbor’s potted plant and scattering it, or throwing puzzle pieces around the room, I remind myself how lucky I am to have these exuberant little people in my life.
I also realize how lucky I am to be able to spend this time with my kids at home. Most other mothers I know don’t have a choice about engaging in full-time paid employment to support their families—and I stress “paid employment,” because, trust me, looking after two toddlers is work. I know that the day will come when my twins would rather spend time with their friends than cuddling with me in the rocking chair post-nap reading My Truck is Stuck or Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. So while I enjoyed every minute of my Nature assignment—the passionate speeches and the arguments in favor and against the project, and occasional catcalls and boos from the audience—I was also just as happy to get back on the bus in the afternoon and come home. Hallo, sweet children.