Have you ever read a book and completely fell in love with the characters and story line, so much that you couldn’t put it down? You read far too late into the evening and find yourself gushing to book club friends, saying “have you got to the part when they…” and enjoying one another’s delight. Then you notice that you’re well over 75% of the way through the book and you come to this horrible realization that the story will end soon. Part of you wants to tear through it as fast as you can because it’s beautiful and delightful and the end product is simply too enticing. The other inner-self wants to drag it out, to savor every paragraph and sentence because you know that once it’s done, you can never experience it in the same way again. You can read other books, you can even re-read books, but that maiden story line, filled only with hope rather than expectation, can happen only at this reading and you want it to last as long as possible, secretly wishing it would never end.
The first child, the baptism of parenting, is its own beautiful animal. You never really know what’s coming next. Nothing can compare with or replace the experience of your first time with a little human depending upon you for everything – each subsequent experience adds to that and stands alone in its special way, but the first time is unique in its firstness.
In much the same way, your last also carries its own special place. Of course, many people never fully realize their last was their last – that’s a blessing/curse for some, but not all. Short of a miracle baby, we confidently believe this little guy is our grand finale, so I’m fine with declaring him the last. It is its own little declaration of independence.
I was rocking Mr. M during a double-whamy spell of teething and a slight ear infection and realized how un-irritated I was to be doing so. Two babies ago, I would’ve just wanted to be done with the day after hours of juggling, refereeing, feeding and otherwise herding my litter. But this particular day, I was fine with rocking. I took him downstairs for some cuddles, not concerned he would come to “expect it” and become a manipulative little brat. (I’ve learned the hard way they do that on their own, with due time.)
If I could do anything over, something I try not to give significant consideration, I would have had my “last” baby immediately after my first. I would’ve had 3 last babies. Written with the benefit of hindsight, I would hold that one-year-old and think, “next year, this one will be in a bigger bed, running and even talking some!” for each and every one. I would stew upon the incredible speed at which they grow in these early years, mastering feats at a rapid pace. I may be in an incredibly difficult stage (which, ahem, we are, with at least 50% of these small humans), but these stages move so quickly. If I’m not careful, I’ll complain my way through the put-in-take-it-out-of-the-box stage completely. No one wants to miss that, it’s one of the highlights.
We’ve known all along we wanted 4 children and while we acknowledged it really wasn’t all up to us to decide and perhaps we would end up with a different number, that target changed the way I experienced the early years for my middles. In the back of my mind, I knew I would have the middle of the night feedings again, the diapering time (people tell me all the time they miss that), and the early steps full of weeble and wabble. With the next one, I would think.
Now, I’m all out of next ones, and I’m finding how beautiful these moments can be. Not because they’re only joyful and full of rainbows, unicorns, and pinterest projects, but because they are fleeting. I can’t get it back, I can’t start over, no new chances – so all I can do is love from the depths for the moment I have.
These moments of gratitude for my last baby come with perfect timing as I’ve entered into a stage of restlessness, jumpy in my own daily rhythms. After previously moving into bigger kid freedom, Mr. M’s recent induction into toddlerhood sent us back to the chains of nap- and bed-time rigidity and stroller requirements. Part of me wants to plow through these days straight into grade school when I can paint my face blue and sprint through the neighborhood in a kilt yelling “freeeeedoooommmm!”
But these baby cheeks tug me back down to reality. He beckons me to savor rather than scarf my moments. He is only this small this one time – as I tell my kids, every day we’re each getting older. The crib will come down, we’ll sell the cadillac of a stroller and the diaper bag will retire. Those things will happen.
What will not happen is returning to today. Even when it’s full of shouting or chasing, ending with a collapse on the couch, these baby-days close out one by one.