We are not having any more babies. Seven words. Conceptually simple (no pun intended). But holy cow, what an idea to wrap my mind around. Even though it’s not exactly a recent revelation—we had only ever planned on three kids, and it’s been a good length of time since we did the things you do when you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to add any more tiny generals to the insurgency that stages a daily coup at breakfast. And to be very, very clear, I don’t regret our decision for a minute. I love holding babies but I don’t feel a pang or a qualm when I hand them back. Your little guy is adorable. Excuse me while I go sleep through the night. Even so, somehow I’m only now suddenly, finally, really wrapping my mind around what no more babies means for me as a mama.
Maybe it’s because Nick and I are in Hawaii this week, and the last time we were in Hawaii I had two kids under five and was six months pregnant with the third. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently spent time with friends who have tiny babies and find myself over-romanticizing life with an infant. I have to carefully watch myself so I don’t accidentally say something stupid like, “It goes by so fast! Hold onto these moments,” accompanied with a big, sentimental sigh. Yes, so fast. I’ve only spent eight full years of my life at moderate alert, the baseline threat level to make sure three small people are sleeping but still breathing, eating but not choking, running but not in traffic, and playing but not breaking themselves or others. Ok, it’s not “fast” in the same way a tropical vacation goes by fast. More like “fast” in the way your entire life flashes before your eyes when you think you’re about to have a terrible car accident. Why am I wishing for those days back? Why would I EVER tell someone else that 24-7 assault on your body and mind is the best that it gets? STOP THE TALKING, MOUTH. STOP.
I am indescribably disgusted by Trump encouraging his supporters to punch other people in the face for saying things they don’t like to hear, but if you ever hear me tell a worn-out friend who was up three times in the middle of the night with an infant and is trying to make it to lunchtime without irrationally yelling at the two-year-old that “these days are so precious,” please at least kick me under the table. I’m not condoning violence, but sometimes I need a reminder to keep my genius pearls of wisdom to myself.
I’m beginning to understand the perspective of the people who say the things to exhausted mamas of tiny people that make them want to scream, or better yet, hand their kids over and go sit quietly in a coffee shop with a magazine while the deluded stranger gets a firsthand reminder of how a trip through Target can feel like the kind of torture that would make you sell out your own grandmother to make it stop. If you are currently the recipient of well-meaning but incredibly misguided commentary, let me tell you this about the misty-eyed women ruining your day: WE REMEMBER THE MOMENTS. WE DON’T REMEMBER THE REALITY. I don’t even remember the reality, and Sam is only 2 1/2. I hold a tiny baby and I remember the moment of holding him as a tiny baby on my chest in a rocking chair. Not the reality of holding my tiny baby on my chest in a rocking chair while thinking, Please, oh please let this be the end of the colic for tonight because I have two other kids to put to bed, a sink full of dishes, no underwear for tomorrow, and Sweet Holy Moses, I used the last of the coffee beans this morning. So I also need to go to the store, but I’m so tired I just want to crawl under the crib and sleep for a week.
And then, like waking up from a realistic and stressful dream, you’re suddenly done with that part of your life. The part that you never knew what it would be like until you were in it, and once you were in it each hour lasted a week and each day was practically guaranteed to last for the rest of eternity. Then, all of a sudden, one day you realize that you’re really not a mom of babies any more. I’m not ever going to breastfeed again. If I carry a baby in a pack, it’s going to be as a favor to a friend. Really? Really-really? Wow. I’m not sure whether I should dance or cry.
I feel like eight years ago, someone plopped me at a trailhead in the Rockies and said, “Time to start. Go that way.” And I walked. And walked. And walked. And sometimes it was so breathtaking that I wept, and sometimes it was so brutal that I cried, but every day I was on the trail, and all I could see in front of me was an endless mountain range, sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes flat, but always mountains. I knew that one day I’d have to run out of Rockies (my sense of geography is bad, but not that bad), but I couldn’t make myself believe it. No two days were the same, but I had nowhere to go but the trail, always walking.
Until this moment when I lift my eyes from the path and realize the mountains are flattening out. And instantly, it’s so easy to look back in regret. If only I’d known it would be over so soon, I would have lingered longer at that sunset. I would have soaked my feet in that stream. I would have sung as I climbed that steep, steep peak, instead of crying because my lungs hurt, my feet hurt, and I was just so weary from every day before and every day still to come. Moments, totally detached from reality. It can be a wonderful part of human nature; after all, it’s why our first children have siblings. Childbirth wasn’t THAT bad, and holding a sleeping newborn was so magical. We should totally do that again.
But staying on the tightrope of savoring the moments we treasure without falling into the abyss of regretting that every second wasn’t one of them is tricky. It’s hard to discredit the little voice that says you could have done better, that you missed so many chances in a season of life that will never come again. As I was thinking about this, about the days I was grumpy or overwhelmed by the insignificant, the days I didn’t want to be with my kids let alone savor their quirky little personalities, I realized that every day that has passed is a day my kids will never have again, either. They’ll never be one again, or two or five. And you know what? They had bad days, too. Days when they didn’t savor any moments. Days when they were cranky and snarly and totally failed to appreciate the glory of their life. But we’ve never told our kids that they could have done a better job last year, that they somehow missed out on the potential of their childhood because they maybe didn’t do their very best every day. We try to tell our kids to embrace the good, learn from the mistakes but also let them go, and, ultimately, do their best to choose happiness.
They can’t stay tiny forever. God knows what He’s doing, because none of us could survive that. I may never see another child of mine for the first time, but I can hold onto the memory of the three amazing times that I did. And now my arms are free to hold other mamas’ babies (at least until Sam sees me and reclaims the lap territory), possibly to give my friends the tiny bit of breathing space they need to be able to savor the moment with their own perfect children. Babies are a season, and I hope I can appreciate someone else’s without longing for the mythical days of my own, to cherish the moments but also to remember the reality.