I know, mamas, that you have read one of the many articles online about when your baby does something for the last time. How you will never know when they will take their last daily nap, when they will play with their matchbox cars for the last time, and (sob! sob!) when they will want to hug you in public for the last time.
Every one of these articles brings me to tears. Every. Single. One.
Because they are all so true. I cannot remember the last time my nine-year-old daughter donned a princess dress. Something she used to do daily. I can see her twirling in the living room and going to dinner as Elsa or Rapunzel or Cinderella. But I have no recollection of which princess gown was her final choice or when that final choice was made. All I know is that it has been a long time since I have seen a princess in my house.
I do remember, very clearly, the last time my ten-year-son held my hand. And that is because he didn’t want to hold my hand, yet I held on to him with all my might. I knew he could cross the road to the hardware store without assistance, but out of habit and love and that literal and figurative “holding on” I attempted to force him to stay right by me. That exercise was as fruitless as trying to get him to stop growing and he wriggled free from my grip and hasn’t grabbed for my hand since.
The known last time
Yes, all of that is heartbreakingly sad. And tear-jerking. Yet, I think what is even worse than the unknown last time is the known last time. You see, mamas, you will have all kinds of lasts while raising a child. The last time they wear a newborn diaper. The last time they sleep in your bedroom. The last time they nurse. The last time they ride in the infant car seat. The last time they attend preschool. And these, mamas, YOU control. Which makes it that much harder. You are consciously choosing to will your child on to the next stage. You are making the decision and with that decision comes overwhelming sadness for the fact that they will never be that little or that helpless ever, ever again.
Sure, they can’t stay in size nine months clothes for eternity. And no one “fails” the 3’s class. Moving them on to the next is inevitable, much like their growing and developing is impossible to avoid. But you may have unconscious thoughts that go something like this….“Well, if I keep them in this size two diaper for one more pack, I will somehow slow down time”, and “Maybe I should let them nurse until they are 16 because everything points to how good it is for children”. We so want them to become independent little people but at the same time, we want them to stay exactly where they are.
There are also those milestones you cannot wait to come along. And you may repeat your desire for them to arrive over and over and over to yourself in order to get through the toughest days. “I can’t wait until she is potty trained”. “Won’t it be amazing when he stops taking a bottle?”. “How much longer until we no longer need to pack a stroller everywhere we go?”.
And yet, somehow, when all of those milestones are reached, we mourn their passing.
We stop and smell diapers and shed tears over the fact our littles no longer wear them. We remember longingly the times we sat and rocked and cuddled our babies while they hungrily sucked down a bottle. We watch parents pushing their babies in strollers through the park and wish our school-age kids would want nothing more than to be right by our sides.
Change is hard. Memories can be bittersweet. And, as every mama knows, time with your babies goes by in a heartbeat. So perhaps that is why we mourn every milestone, both big and small. That is why those things we say we want to end, also come with tears when they do. Because with every change in a child’s life, comes the realization that they are that much closer to being grown and that much further from the precious, innocent baby we once knew. So keep them in that too small onesie for one more day. Allow yourself to rock them to sleep one last time. Hold their hand every chance you get. Enjoy stepping on Legos and picking up Shopkins. Sing along with the theme song to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Because, in the very wise words of Darius Rucker, “This phase is going fly by, so baby just hold on, cause it won’t be like this for long.”