(Franklin and me on this day, May 7… exactly 8 years ago. He’s 2 days old.)
A mother’s body remembers her babies—the folds of soft flesh, the softly furred scalp against her nose. Each child has its own entreaties to body and soul. It’s the last one, though, that overtakes you. . . A first child is your own best foot forward, and how you do cheer those little feet as they strike out. You examine every turn of flesh for precocity, and crow it to the world.
But the last one; the baby who trails her scent like a flag of surrender through your life when there will be no more coming after—oh, that’s love by a different name. She is the babe you hold in your arms for an hour after she’s gone to sleep. If you put her down in the crib, she might wake up changed and fly away. So instead you rock by the window, drinking the light from her skin, breathing her exhaled dreams. Your heart bays to the double crescent moons of closed lashes on her cheeks. She’s the one you can’t put down.
-Barbara Kingsolver, Poisonwood Bible
Oh boy. This quote makes me cry. I read it a few days ago, just a day or so before my youngest turned 8. The one I can’t put down. She described it so perfectly…how you cheer those older ones on. You’re so excited about every milestone, so proud of them. So amazed by what they can do. You certainly do love them.
But the youngest. Oh, that youngest. You hold on a little bit tighter. Your cheering quiets a bit and starts mixing with tears when they reach a new milestone. Knowing it will be the last makes it so bittersweet. In fact, at times, if I’m not careful, just bitter.
I ought to put up a celebratory post of him, how wonderful he is and how happy we are to have this wonderful big kid. We certainly are. But for a moment, I just need to hold on to him before I send him on. The biggest comfort is knowing that I really did learn how to slow down and enjoy it by the end. Young motherhood is crazy and exhausting and hard. But by the last one, I really did learn to appreciate and savor those gone-so-quickly moments. Maybe that makes it harder, because it was so beautiful and I miss it so much. If it had passed by in a blur and I’d just succumbed to the exhaustion and wished those moments away, would it be easier for me now? Because I’m enjoying the relief of the different pace? The full nights of sleep? Could I look at those days as something I’ve survived and can be happy to never return?
Instead, I enjoyed them. I held on. I rolled it around on my tongue like a piece of fine chocolate. I watched him sleep. I touched the soft hair. I kissed the tiny lips. I smelled that sweet breath. I bounced and patted and sang and snuggled.* I grabbed the moments I could and realized they were great at the time. And there’s a big part of me that aches to have that tiny person back. And aches with every step they take away.
* I didn’t enjoy it ALL the time. I don’t mean to over-simplify. It was difficult much of the time. Motherhood is crazy and exhausting. But the pain of it all fades, and the beauty of it lingers like a scent… you can almost taste it, just out of reach.
(Franklin on his 8th birthday)
My caboose. I’d say the train analogy is very apt, especially with babies. The first one, the engine, rips into your life and shakes it upside down. It’s noisy and chaotic and you can barely get your bearings. The middle ones do the same, and fill your heart and expand your skills and make your home the crazy wonderful, full, exciting place it is, even amidst the chaos of a train running it down. And then the last one. The caboose closes all the doors, cleans up the mess, ends each chapter before you’re quite ready, just at the time you began to feel accustomed to and even really enjoy the commotion. Suddenly, the train has moved on, and all is quiet again. You’re still the same person, yet everything… EVERYTHING is different after that ride.
I know the ride isn’t over. We’re probably on the most scenic, calm, fun part of the ride, before teenagers threaten to pick up the speed again. I really really DO enjoy this part of the ride. It’s amazing and wonderful, and my kids are so much FUN to hang out with. Even when they’re awake! And they can do so much for themselves. I know this is a stage that I’ll again reflect on tearfully someday.
But just for today, I’m going to indulge myself. I’ll let myself wish for a time machine to go visit the Littles. I’ll mourn my empty arms and feel a bit weird and out-of-sorts in my quiet calm house, before the train comes home and leaves socks everywhere and loses its homework and fights with itself and spends too much time on the computer and reminds me that we really only have this very day to enjoy fully.