Looking through photos, I see the one of you grinning up at me with your big brothers. You all look so tiny! My breath feels short when I see that photo and realize it was two years ago now. Only two years ago and, WOW TWO YEARS AGO ALREADY!
I kind of thought it would last forever.
Oh, not babyhood, not toddlerhood. I knew you'd all get bigger…but then, even if I didn't think it would last for ever, I was lulled into feeling like it would. And some days, oh man, this youngest part of childhood felt like it was dragging on forever. With three kids each a couple years apart from the next, I've only known parenting with a baby or toddler in the mix. This is the view of parenting I've had. It includes a toddler.
Somehow with you turning four soon, the very temporary nature of having kids at home seems overly noticeable lately, and it's got me feeling a bit wobbly. I keep thinking of things I thought we might do while you were little and realizing that that's that. We did some great stuff, but it's time to dream about new adventures with bigger kids.
I've said things when I was tired of this grinding, exhausting parenting phase like, “I know I'll miss this one day.” and “The day are are long but the years are short.” and I guess I meant them, but maybe I also said them as a sort of talisman. Like if I said these things it would be a magic spell against the sadness of seeing you grow up and away from me.
You, my daughter, my nearly-four year old, are my youngest and my last child. I don't want to go back and relive the sleep deprived days of babyhood, nor the days in toddlerhood when I questioned my sanity as the house devolved into toddler-fueled chaos, but at the same time I see you today and I realize that toddlerhood is done. I feel an ache as I remember a few years ago, looking out at all of the possibilities, possibilities that lived in my dreams, unspoiled by the realities of parenting three kids and being a flawed and growing human being.
Perhaps you'd picked on my meloncholy mood the other night when you unexpectedly asked to be carried to bed cradled in my arms like an infant.
I picked you up and breathed in, feeling more than usual the sweetness of still being able to cuddle you in my arms as a small, if slightly dangling and almost too big, bundle.
I kissed your head and told you, “One day, my love, I won't be able to carry you like this any more. You'll be too big.”
And I felt your little body tense up and your voice cracked with sadness as you said, “Oh Mama! On that day I will want you and WANT you to carry me.”
That did it, the sadness near the surface finally bubbled over and this time as I breathed in, my breath caught and the tears came down.
“Oh baby. On that day I will want to carry you. And I will try, and if I can't carry you, I will hold you in my arms and hug you instead.”
And I stood there in our dark hallway, crying onto your hair.
I held you and tried to soak in the feeling of wanting to carry you and still being able to.
Oh my baby, I will always want to carry you, but you need to grow. And so do I.
So I'm gonna keep on breathing, little one who is growing big, and I'm going to stand ready for that hug should you come back for it.