A school is being built outside our apartment window. Every morning at 7:00 an air horn signals to the construction workers that it’s time to get to work. The structure is slowly stealing our view of the Hudson River. At certain times of year we can stand in the corner of our living room and still see the sky painted pink, purple, orange and red as the sun dips lower over New Jersey, but for the most part, our view is now of silver beams and orange netting as the building climbs skyward.
I’ve never been one to be fascinated by construction, but watching this project day by day has been kind of fun. A lot of the work seems tedious. I see the workers moving objects from one place to another, seemingly with a purpose. I hear the hammers and drills nonstop, although I’m thankful that I can mostly tune them out at this point. Most days, when I look out the window in the evening after the workers have gone home I couldn’t tell you what exactly is different about the building from when I looked out that morning. Surely they were working, but to the untrained eye I can’t see the progress they made.
Then there are the days that are marked by noticeable changes. Last week I came home and a stair case snaked its way along the southwest corner of the building. Even these untrained eyes could see that. I could also clearly see the difference between the metal sheets one day and the cement floor the next. The large red crane no longer swings steel beams to be put in place like Lincoln Logs. Instead an elevator is now affixed to the outside of the building to take smaller parts up to each floor.
A life is being built inside our apartment window. Every morning at 7:00 my daughter’s wake-up light turns green, signaling to her that she can come out of her room. Her stature is slowly stealing our view of the newborn we brought home from the hospital almost four years ago. At certain times of the day she will still let me snuggle her close like she did when she was smaller, but for the most part she’s embracing the independence that growing up brings.
I’ve never been one to be nostalgic for the way time moves, but watching this girl grow day by day has been the most fun I’ve ever had. A lot of the work of mothering seems tedious. I see the purpose behind the decisions we make as we choose which school she’ll attend and or even what book we’ll read before bed. I hear myself reminding my daughter to say please and thank you and put her school uniform on instead of her dress up clothes first thing in the morning and clear the table and check in with the child who is alone at the playground. But honestly, most days, if I evaluate my day as I tuck her in to bed, I couldn’t tell you what exactly is different from when she came bounding out of her room, curls all disheveled and sleep still in the corners of her eyes just 12 hours earlier. Surely we are both changing, but I can’t see the progress we have made.
Then there are the days that are marked by noticeable changes. This morning she came out of her room fully dressed in her school uniform instead of a princess dress – and she was smiling the whole time. These trained mama eyes could see how proud she was. I could also see clearly her heart on the day she told me on the way home from school that she helped a friend who was crying by rubbing her back, “because that’s just what friends do, Mom”. As she has grown, there are some large things I have put away that she no longer needs because her foundation is becoming secure – her stroller, her crib, the thousandth reminder to put her shoes on. Instead, my hand is extended to her side so she can grasp it whenever she needs that small reminder that I believe in her and she’s loved beyond measure.
I wonder what these workers will do when the school is complete and the halls are filled with children learning and laughing every day. Will they ever come back to admire the finished product? Of course, this is where the analogy breaks down a bit, because we know our work as mothers is never really finished. But the raising and building up part gets to be less and less as children become more of who they were meant to be. It’s easy to focus on the obvious milestones – the floor going in, the first day of preschool, the paint on the walls, the first goal scored, the plumbing being installed, the first broken heart, the keys handed over, the dorm room decorated and a hug as you drive away (be still my heart). But it’s the hammering and hugs, the ladder moved to the next floor and the hand held on the way to school, the extra check on the blueprint and the extra peek in the backpack to make sure the lunch is there. These everyday tasks, seemingly unnoticed and sometimes incredibly tedious, these are what make the building, and the child, strong. It’s the small, everyday miracles - not just the notable milestones - that make the work worthwhile.
*Thank you to the wonderful team at The Good Mother Project for your monthly theme that encouraged me to write this essay, and for choosing to publish it as well. You can read it on their site here.