Friday Takeaway: My Own Personal ‘Groundhog Day’

  • Naomi Shulman is shown May 31, 2017 in her Northampton home. —SARAH CROSBY

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Remember the movie “Groundhog Day”? The one where Bill Murray got stuck in some kind of endless loop of a time warp, waking up each morning only to find it was February 2 again — and then again, again and again?

When that movie came out, I was young and childless, and my life stretched out before me as a somewhat terrifyingly blank slate. I had every possibility open to me, and the tyranny of choice was overwhelming. I liked the movie, but I could not relate to it; the idea of feeling stuck in a confined set of parameters did not apply to me. Looking back, I realize that many of the choices I made in those formative years were an attempt to set up some parameters for myself, to narrow my scope so that I could focus on a single direction.

Then came parenthood, and with it came the wash-rinse-repeat rotation of family life. For a few weeks after the first baby arrived, I looked around blearily with a vague sense of having upended my life. (That was true.) It wasn’t long before I realized that I liked the new life I had toppled into. Talk about a confined set of parameters, though! My baby’s schedule was, necessarily, my schedule. My toddler’s home safety needs dictated my furniture choices. My preschooler’s social calendar dictated with whom I spent my time, too.

“The days are long and the years are short,” a woman whose own children were grown said to me. (True.) “One day you’ll miss this time,” another said as my daughter screamed incessantly in her stroller. (Not true.)

More than any other aspect of new parenthood, though, I was struck by the sameness of it all, the gentle but relentless rhythm that never shifted — because if it did, all hell broke loose. I gave into it. It felt inevitable, as inevitable as waking up to the morning of February 2, over and over. When my kids were small, one of their favorite screentime indulgences was “Teletubbies,” which always featured a video short (“Tummy Tales!”)  on one of the Tubbie’s rotund, bescreened bellies. It would last about three minutes, tops, and when it was over, all the Tubbies would bob up and down and sing out, “Again, again!” And then the video repeated. 

It was toddler crack — and parent Ambien. It was also brilliant because that “again, again!” summed up early childhood. But for a few years now, my endless loop, my own personal “Groundhog Day,” has been slowing, teetering a little in its predictablity. The kids are older. Their lives are splintering in different directions; their schedules are no longer mine, and their social lives are definitely no longer mine.

Lila is a year away from moving out, and it’s on her mind — and mine — pretty much all the time. “What do you think of this table?” I’ll ask her. She’ll raise a judgmental eyebrow for a moment, then wave her hand. “It’s fine if you like it,” she’ll say. “I’m not going to be living here much longer anyway.” She laughs every time she says it, but I don’t. (It’s true.)

I still see glimpses of who the girls used to be. Teenage Lila clutching her water bottle with both hands suddenly looks strikingly like toddler Lila gripping her sippy cup. Tween Stella zonks on the couch, and the expression on her face is the very same as the one I used to see on baby Stella, her eyes darting in REM sleep. 

But those moments are fewer and fewer. 

The movie “Groundhog Day” did end, after all. Eventually Bill Murray woke up, and it was February 3.

This day, this long, repetitive day of hands-on parenting, will come to a close. What the next sunrise will bring, I still don’t know. 

Naomi Shulman’s work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times,  The Washington Post and Yankee Magazine, as well as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter: @naomishulman.