It crept up on me, this wistfulness. A feeling that these days are slipping away like pearls through my fingers. The way he looks at me and the wiggles settle into stillness. The way his whole face lights up when he smiles, just because I looked at him and said hello. Moments that make my heart hiccup.
It was the end of a long, very busy and chaotic day. Both sets of grandparents in the house, and Next Littlest Brother bouncing off the walls from birthday cake (in the middle of Lent) and presents. By 7:30, Michael vibrated like a coiled spring, his little muscles taut, his head batting from side to side.
My mother, with the slow gentleness she only exhibits toward grandbabies, settled him against her chest and took him upstairs. I followed, a moth drawn to a flame. She laid him down on the carpet in
the hallway, speaking softly to him as the shrieking glee continued downstairs. “It’s time to get you settled down, little boy,” she said, and his face nearly split with joy, legs and arms kicking wildly. “Does your mama have something more comfortable to put you in?”
I retrieved his sleeper, and we continued to sit there, two grown women reduced to helpless adoration by a fourteen-pound child. And a deep pang spread outward from the center of my chest, crushing breath for a moment. Because this stage is passing away and if, as I expect, we have to call it at four, I’m experiencing it for the last time.
“I don’t remember this stage with the others,” I said softly. “I’m trying to really live in the moment…but I don’t remember it with the others. I keep hoping once it’s all past, from a distance I’ll be able to pull it out, I’ll be able to look back and remember. Really remember. But I’m afraid it’s just going to be gone.”
My mother’s hand brushed over his body. “It’s going to be gone,” she said, the voice of experience. “And grandchildren are different.”
I bent down and pressed myself against the tiny body, willing my nerves to capture the sensation and hold it, knowing they aren’t capable. And I wondered: am I really ready to move on? For a moment, weakened uterine walls and early deliveries and NICU stays and the sheer chaos of daily life with four children, one of whom has special needs–all of it disappeared into petty nothingness against the emptiness of life After Babies.
Because let’s face it, I’m a baby person. Two years from now I’ll be pulling my hair out over Michael, who will be saying “no” and breaking things and wanting me to play with him (blech!). Right now, his desires and mine are in nearly perfect unison. I want to touch him and talk to him and hold him, and he wants to be touched and talked to and held. Not that there aren’t frustrations–there are–and of course, not having to wash diapers every 48 hours, and being able to sleep at night, are big pluses to the later stages. Still, Babyhood is the part I love most about small childhood. Holding someone else’s baby just isn’t the same, at least not for me. There isn’t that visceral reaction, that gut-deep connection between me and this particular child, who is mine to care for, for whom I am the center of the world.
Michael is on my lap now, tired and refusing to nurse, as has been his pattern of late, and reminding me that babyhood isn’t all transcendent moments. We really are stretched to our limit now. The kids we have need us, and there already isn’t enough to go around (how long has it been since I practiced my flute, for instance?). But I understand now how a woman can enjoy a “change-of-life baby” in a way she hasn’t been able to enjoy earlier babies. The kids go off to school, and it’s just Mommy and Baby again, like it was with the first one…only then, she was too freaked out to enjoy it properly.
Will we go that route? Honestly, it’s hard to imagine. My body really is pretty beat up from surgeries, and with three rambunctious boys, Christian sees college bills and car insurance premiums barreling down on us, to say nothing of the big unknown that is Julianna’s future. We have to be responsible.
But it makes me sad.