Once, when our firstborn was an infant–just weeks old and snuggled into a forest green velour sleeper embellished with red and white Christmas decals–he was asleep in my brother-in-law’s arms. My brother-in-law, whose eldest children were teenagers at the time, stared into my tiny child’s face and said, “I can’t remember my son being this small.” I was horrified.
After 32 weeks of a tumultuous pregnancy involving two extended hospital stays, weeks of bed rest and near constant fetal monitoring until the forces of maternal nature could no longer be blunted, there was a disquieting birth. And my tiny child was whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit where he stayed until his little baby body got into the habit of regular breathing.
I cherished every second spent holding my newborn child, my gift and blessing, so fragile yet resilient, my joy. I could not fathom how any parent could forget. So whenever our baby would wake in the night, I’d rock him in the dark and sing to him–old hymns or Stevie Nicks songs–anything I knew by heart. And I would close my eyes and resolve to commit each moment to memory. I never wanted to forget.
Yet, like the lyrics to After the Glitter Fades, only bits and pieces of my son’s infancy seem to remain a part of my brain’s permanent record. Like my brother-in-law, I gaze upon our now 15-year-old son and can hardly recall him once being so tiny.
I have made every effort to be the best mother I can be. I am not perfect. None of us are.
Older women would tell me how it all goes so fast. But when our kids were in diapers and didn’t always sleep through the night or allow me five seconds alone in the bathroom, I would wonder, “WHEN is it going to go faster?!”
And then, after years of wooden trains and Legos, superhero costumes and storybooks, I stepped through a time warp. Now I have to reach up to hug my son, who was once a 5 lb. completely dependent baby boy. I’ve tried so hard to hold on and not forget, that now I have no idea how to begin letting go.
Other mothers tell of how they cried on their child’s first day of kindergarten. I didn’t shed a single tear that day. I was relieved whenever our son showed signs of being able to navigate the world on his own. Milestone after milestone always brought a sigh of relief; we were doing something right. The kid was going to be okay. But wait…
He is now a freshman in high school and we (probably) only have four years left before he launches into the world for more than just a day. So I promised myself I’d speak affirmation to him every single day until he leaves for college. But then, he aggravated me, like all teenagers often do to their mothers. I don’t remember what he did, probably left wet laundry in the washing machine, something trivial but maddening, and I went all loose canon bitchy mom in need of wine or hormone injections. I’d blown my affirmation pledge after a single day. And unlike when he was tiny, I don’t have much time left to make everything right. It’s all going so damned fast!
And now, those tears I didn’t shed when he was a kindergartner come regularly. I cry whenever I consider the mistakes I may have made as a parent. And I well up as I struggle over how to best parent a man-boy who wants to travel across the country on a summer mission trip but can’t find his socks. Is he going to be okay? Am I going to be okay?
I remember being pregnant and frustrated that my pregnancy wasn’t going smoothly. I asked my doctor, “WHEN will I stop worrying and enjoy this?”
She told me the awful truth, that I would never stop worrying but that there also would be joy. Admittedly, I worry less. I’ve gone from checking on an infant every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing to trying to envision a future with grown children. I remind myself to breathe. There is definitely joy. So much joy. And yet, I haven’t been this emotional since giving birth. Just like no one can describe the crazy mix of emotions involved in becoming a new parent, no one could have prepared me for what I’m feeling at this stage of life. It once seemed so far off, and now here I am with growing boys ever closer to being grown up. I hope to remember most of it.