I’m pretty sure it was a Tuesday.
It was on a Tuesday that I breastfed my youngest child for the last time. She looked up at me and smiled while I caressed her tuft of dark hair that had been slowly filling in as the weeks passed.
I marveled at how different she was from her very first few days here and how much she had grown since then. Those first, difficult days when she wouldn’t eat and rapidly lost weight felt like light years away, even though they drug on and on while we lived them.
Now suddenly, it was a Tuesday, roughly eleven months later, and it was the last time she fed from me. And like a door suddenly slamming shut, those days were gone.
One of the biggest gifts you gain from parenting is perspective.
When you give birth to your first baby and the nurse places him or her in your arms, you feel like you are signing away your remaining years on the dotted line. You willingly relinquish them to something seemingly bigger and greater than anything you could have ever imagined.
You bring baby home, and you’re singing to them in the darkness of your living room while listening to Josh Groban songs and suddenly…you find yourself crying, but who cries to Josh Groban anyway, and what is wrong with you??
Then their faces start to fill in and the chub starts to become more pronounced, and one rainy day they open their eyes and see you (or at least, you think they do…) for the first time. You fall in love with their long, spindly fingers and get high off of the way their cheeks smell and feel.
Then that initial, post-baby adrenaline wears off and the days set in. I mean the real days, where you realize that you’re stuck in this whole parenting gig come hell or high water.
Suddenly, when you’re crying from the baby blues and your breasts are engorged and you’re suffering from sleeplessness and loneliness and an ache you didn’t know you could feel, you start to wonder what you’ve done. You wonder if you can tear up that contract and get those days back.
You want yourself back.
You mourn for the days that are past, and you feel guilty when you do because even though you know wouldn’t change the present you can’t help but wonder what you did with your life before now.
You wonder if you’ll ever get around to feeling like yourself again. You realize that the days of being just you are gone because now you’re always going to be you plus one, no matter what happens.
Life might start to ease up but just as they do, new things come along and run you though an intense gamut of emotion.
Infants turn into toddlers who draw on the wall with permanent markers, throw their food off of their plate and on to the back of the dog and learn to shake their head and shout “no!”
These tiny beings don’t care if you’re sick or tired or just plain emotionally exhausted. These tiny people that you just want to love make even that earnest feat so difficult. You start to wonder what your friends who aren’t parents are doing right now…
Do they have mascara on and a drink in their hands? Are they reading a book or writing their thesis or soaking in the tub? Are they at work where people are listening to them and respecting their opinions and creativity and bathroom time?
Before you know it, those infants turn into small children and now they know how to work the doorknob on the bathroom door, so they come in and ask you for help with their homework while you’re sitting on the toilet.
They smile at you through oversized teeth, but just ten minutes later they tell you that they don’t like dinner you haven’t even ladled onto their plates yet without so much as even looking at it.
They point and ask you why your belly looks like a deflated balloon, but then they crawl into bed with you at 10 o’clock at night because they want to fall asleep with you and since their hair smells like coconut conditioner you guess it’s okay.
The greatest curse you can gain from parenting is perspective.
Even though stages wax and wane with the passing of time and I am glad to see them go and good riddance, I know now for certain that they aren’t permanent. Which turns my insides something fierce.
Because suddenly, it’s a Tuesday and I’m nursing my youngest baby for the last time. Then on a random Thursday afternoon, I’m packing away her tiny onesie with peach flower buds smattered all over it into a tote, but before I do I put it up to my nose and try to breathe in any last remaining smells of infancy and Dreft.
Finally, I’m left trying to futilely decide if the mountain of clothes I’m storing should stay or just go, but I don’t think I can bear the thought of putting them in the donation bin and having to reconcile the fact that I’m probably not going to do this again.
Now that I am reaching the end of my child-bearing days and looking ahead to the golden years of simply raising children without the weight of the newborn stage hovering, I feel like I’m packing up more than just clothes into these gray totes.
Isn’t that the way it goes??
One day you’re riding down the road with a friend smoking a cigarette while hoping your mom doesn’t find out, listening to questionable music, laughing and concerned only with what you want, how you feel, what you need.
Then the next moment you’re 30 something and awake before 7 a.m. with sleep in your eyes and the most seemingly exciting thing on your itinerary for the day is a trip to Target.
These days are sometimes all you want to get away from, but they’re also the blood in your veins and the only things you know how to live.
Time is both a gift and a curse when you seemingly have plenty of it.
When I first became a parent, I used to struggle to perceive time as a gift because for the life of me, I just couldn’t.
Nine months of pregnancy. Three months of the new-newborn stage. Six weeks of teething (for just.one.tooth.) Wiping bottoms for the first four years of each child’s life. Five years until they start school. Ten years before I’m going to enjoy a cup of coffee while it’s still hot and an uninterrupted conversation with a friend. Eighteen years until they’re (theoretically) heading out the door on their own.
Whoever thought of that whole “each day is a blessing” quip never had the stomach bug filter through the five people in their house over the span of a week.
They never had to make it through the canned foods aisle at the grocery store with octopus-armed children.
They never had their feelings hurt by children who forget to say thank you or pick up after themselves or who ignore basically everything you have ever said to them until you shout.
They never had to put their head on the pillow every night and wonder if they got it all right, no, convince themselves that they got it all right that day while they were trying to be everything to tiny people.
That person sure as hell doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Without meaning to, I calculated time as if it were a punishment. I still do. I was convinced I had this whole time as a blessing and a punishment thing figured out.
One moment is a before, then the next an after, and you start to wonder where the time in between has gone and you worry if your eyes were opened wide enough to see and take it all in.
Did I smell the top of every tiny head enough while I could? Have I kissed enough cheeks? Have I administered enough tickles and hugs until I’ve produced enough belly laughs? Have I let my children know enough times that I love them?
You want to quantify that time to make sure you have double-checked every possible box and can say that you’ve done everything you should do.
The mom of right now sees more than the mom I first was. I am so grateful for that.
I’ve done a lot of sorting these past few months. Trying to decipher some faint sense of meaning out of how I’m using my days now that I realize my children are actually going to grow up, and these hours actually have to count for something.
I’m trying to reconcile the times when I feel like I have fallen short in the past while knowing I can’t change it.
Part of reconciling myself to what’s already been done is realizing that now I know, truly know because I have seen it, that time is not permanent. It might feel like a slow fade, but it does fade.
When you realize it isn’t endless, that’s when you realize time isn’t something that just happens to you.
And when you realize that time isn’t just something that happens to you, then you have to consciously choose how you instinctually live your days without seeming to try to hard. It makes you decide what is really important, which is far simpler than it sounds.
I don’t know how to do that just yet. But I’m guessing the first step toward this is realizing that this time is all you have. What it becomes is what you make of it.
And the time best used is the time used for loving others.
That person who stated that all time is a gift and a blessing didn’t know what it was like to live in my house with five people fighting off a stomach bug, or the embarrassment of a child who throws glass jars out of the shopping cart during our shopping trip, or what it’s like trying to assure myself that it all has meaning, even when it aches and it’s all really hard.
They don’t know what it’s like to hold a sense of satisfaction that can only come from knowing that I’m choosing a less selfish path with every dish washed, every head kissed, every hug given, every tickle induced laugh, every trip to the pharmacy.
They don’t know what it’s like to shed the skin of personal autonomy while you emerge from the cocoon into something better. They don’t know what it’s like to count the candles on your birthday cake, but know that you’re really counting the smiling faces around the table with more urgency.
That person doesn’t know what it’s like to love the people I love. Maybe that is the point. Only I can love all of them in the way that they deserve, and maybe ever getting to love at all is why it’s a gift in the first place.