Monday, December 21, 2009

Bye-Bye, Baby

Last night after dinner, I asked Abby to run upstairs and get her pajamas for bedtime. When she came down, she had actually put them on all by herself. The top and bottoms did not match because the matching bottoms are in her laundry basket, and her pants were on backward, but otherwise, she had managed the whole process flawlessly. She was proud of her accomplishment, announcing her feat of independence while bouncing up and down.

As she stood there telling me what she had done, brushing her long blonde hair out of her face with a sweep of her hand, it was clear that we've left the once-consuming and seemingly endless realm of babyhood. We have, without question, entered childhood.

With two more years of experience behind him, Ben is a creature of total self-sufficiency. When he makes a mess, he cleans it up. All bathroom, mealtime, and bedtime procedures are second-nature to him now. Gone are the days of worrying about how many ounces he ate, of enduring the tedious and grueling hours of teaching him to fall asleep, of noting how many diapers he's soiled and wet in a twenty-four hour period. The basic functions that consumed the baby hours are mastered, and we are on to more exciting endeavors like reading and writing, understanding the nature of good and evil, and discovering the joys and travails of friendship.

In addition to dressing herself, Abby now speaks a language whose pronunciation resembles English enough to be understood 90% of the time. She still misses the occasional consonant, and her "o" sounds take on a long, round sound--akin to that of a Brit turned southern gent--but I know what she's saying, receive her meaning as she intends, and can respond in turn. As we drove yesterday, she told me that she is big. "I big. I uh lih-uhl guhrl," she told me--a little girl, not a baby. I replied affirmatively, telling her that soon she would get to sleep in a big girl bed. "And sih in uh bih guhrl chaihr," she continued, remembering our conversation about moving out of her high chair and into a booster. "And use a big girl potty," I added. "And weahr bih guhrl unnerwear," she finished with genuine excitment. All these milestones are just around the corner, and soon we will be a house without cribs or diapers or high chairs.

At this point in some mother's tales, there would be tears shed or wistful sighs sighed or nostalgic proclamations that it all passes too fast. I, however, do not cry or sigh or bemoan the passing of time. Though there are moments when I look at babies and remember how sweet it was to snuggle them close and smell their baby breath and feel all their tiny fingers wrapped around one of mine, I also remember acutely the work of it, the all-consuming demand of it, the tied-downness of it. My memory is not selective. Every stage has its sweetness and its challenges. And perhaps I can better accept the trade-offs. I'm no longer rocking an infant, but I do get to leave the house without a breast pump. I'm not hanging on every smile and coo with rapture, but now I understand what makes them smile--and fret, cry, giggle, and puzzle.

It is a miracle to watch them grow and to see more of their temperament and personality revealed. I love this stage--the innocence and wonder and curiosity and unabashed excitement for all things extraordinary and mundane. When cleaning the floor is a treat and folding a towel is cause for celebration and writing a word is nothing short of magical. The world is new and fresh and waiting to be discovered.

But they will get older, and that's okay, too. I look forward to one day reading chapter books and doing science projects and watching games and recitals. I look forward to conversations at increasing depth and complexity. I don't look forward to adolescent snarkiness, but I pray that we will have a relationship that minimizes the ugly and maximizes the fun and candor. For me, what is most miraculous about motherhood is not any one stage but watching the progression, witnessing the transformation day by day, seeing every little change and development in real time.

And I think I've made peace with the fact that, at each age, I give up more of my starring role in their lives. But that's the beauty of it. I'm working myself out of a job so that we all gain independence, so that we're all free to pursue that which we love--in the security of our love for each other. Hopefully, the kids will grow up into adults who continue to bring joy and wonder to the world--without having to hold my hand. I'll be there, of course, ready to listen or to remind them of their strength or to hold them close, but when they return to their homes and families and jobs and lives, I will return to my life. And my reward will be watching them become their own incredible people.

That's the thing: motherhood is my gig right now, and it shades every perspective I have, but it doesn't define me solely. I enjoy sleeping through the night and having time to write. And when the kids are awake, I love snuggling them tight.

So maybe I'm weird, but I don't think I'll be shedding a tear when we use our last diaper or when Ben heads to kindergarten or when Abby celebrates her sweet sixteen. It is all as it should be, and I'm doing my best to be present in the present--celebrating the good and acknowledging the bad, every step of the way--so that when we find ourselves years down the road, we'll look back not with regret but with gratitude for all the memories we've shared--and with anticipation for the adventures to come.

Abby is no longer a baby. She is a little girl. What could be more amazing?

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