When you have a baby, all the focus is on the firsts. The first gassy smile. The first time he looks you in the eye. The first word (we’re not there yet, even though he mumbles “dada” a lot but L wants to be called Papa so that’s clearly not the same!) . Everyone is always focused on the firsts and all the questions are “has he done this yet” or “when did he start doing that?”
Let me tell you something that nobody warns you about…”the lasts.” Already I have a long list of “lasts” that I wish I knew ahead of time were coming. For example, the last time I would nurse him. I hated nursing and we introduced the bottle to him while still in the hospital because I knew I didn’t want to nurse full-time. But now, almost 3 months after fully stopping to nurse, as I held him in my arms last night, a memory flashed across my mind of a sweet little boy falling asleep as I nursed him. Where did he go? Who is this big kid finishing his bottle and self soothing himself to sleep now? When did that happen?
The last time I could leave the room without him crying because, well, now we’re in this really fun stage where if anyone leaves him alone he goes bonkers. When did he become so aware of us? of himself? of this little world he knows? How about the last time he slept in bed with us? We got a little lazy and let V sleep with us when we were in Italy. That continued for a few weeks after we got back and his sleep was so erratic and every little movement woke us up that my husband and I finally said enough is enough. As cute and sweet as those cuddles were, we need our bed back! So, we re-sleep trained and now on week 3 of 12 hours sleeps at night…I miss him in bed with me. I have always had bad insomnia and now on those nights I wake up while my husband sleeps soundly next to me, I wish V was still here in bed…but that’s another last that came and went.
The thing about “lasts” is that often times we don’t even know something is a “last” until much later, right? The memory of what once was creeps into your mind and you wish you had enjoyed that last just a little bit better when you had it. I guess lasts and firsts are two sides of the same coin. With every “first” comes another “last.” And I think it is designed this way so that we as parents learn to let go and let our kids grow!
One of the hardest things about parenting — for me, anyway — has been listening to this constant refrain, everywhere I go:
“Enjoy every minute. It goes so fast.” I roll my eyes even as I write it. But, just like telling someone who is upset to calm down DOESN’T work; telling someone to stop and enjoy every moment isn’t always what you want to hear. It is an odd side-effect of parenthood, the fact that each and every day you have multiple strangers and well meaning loved ones alerting you to a fact that you already know. That your child is growing up and there is nothing you can or should do to stop it.
I am aware that my son’s childhood is fleeting…I am with him daily, remember? I do not need help remembering this. As he started to roll I knew this fact, then he started to scooch and now he is spin cycling around my floor and I am oh so aware that this little creature is hell bent on growing up and exploring this world for himself. As his babbles turn into words I know he is making sense of this strange little life and he will thrive and flourish on his own terms. What I need help with is remembering that him growing up is not a tragedy; it is the point of this whole journey we’re on together.
Sometimes I will say to him, “you can hold your own bottle, Amma doesn’t have to do it for you” and my mom will immediately chirp in to say don’t make him grow up too fast. And in those nights I wake up fighting every urge to sneak in to his room and bring him int bed with him those words creep in and make me wonder am I rushing him? We have so many insecurities and worries as parents, and every comment made stays with us in those corners of the mind reserved for self-doubt and self-criticism. But the answer is always, NO! Everything is happening as it should be.
There is this perfection that moms especially are immediately asked to live up to and it’s unrealistic. You know what is nice to hear? Someone telling me that it’s okay not to think every single minute with them is the best thing ever, because it’s not. That it’s okay to be bored sometimes of the turning gears, crinkle books and spinning toys, and want your baby to go to sleep so you can watch The Real Housewives of whatever city. That it’s okay to just be with them, enjoy the moment and then put them down even if they are crying. That our job as parents is not to imprint every second into some memory scrapbook that lives only for us to cherish. That we as mothers do not have to be forced to live in constant terror that it will all be over too fast and somehow the experience itself is not the goal but rather we have to Pinterest board every milestone or it didn’t actually happen and will be lost forever.
So I don’t know who else needs to hear this, but I certainly need the reminder that yes, babies are special, but even more special is getting the chance to find out who they will ultimately become. And during this process you matter, your relationship with your partner matters, nights out matter, friendships matter and your identity is not only mom or dad. V will grow older, he will try new things and he will not need me as much and that is okay. It is okay to not want to wipe his butt one day…I am waiting for that day and that doesn’t make this diaper change any less or more important. It is okay for me to think of him at preschool someday, making friends and developing his interests. It is also okay to miss him cuddling with me in bed. The thing is IT IS ALL OK…it is okay for it to just be ok. We don’t have to create instagram worthy lives for it to have mattered and sometimes pictures like this where everyone looks over it is exactly how we all feel!
The gift of being a parent to me is not a gift of a handful of years when your children are small and completely dependent on you but rather the opportunity to watch — and help — them grow into who they are meant to be. To be an observer and cheerleader to encourage them to explore and become who and what they want to be in this life.
Stop letting society make us think we have to be the martyr mother myth; it’s not needed. I wish we would tell each other the truth more often . That is does get easier. He will not need you as much. That you will get more confident as the days go by and *gasp* you will truly enjoy the time away from your kid too!
We should tell new moms the simple truth that being a parent is hard and nobody’s advice or experience will match what you’re going through exactly, so trust yourself. You’re doing a good job. And instead of making us feel guilty that between 100 diapers a day, weeks of colic filled sleepless nights, bleeding nipples, and stomachs that resemble water balloons left out on a hot day too long covered in stretch marks we are somehow not also truly “enjoying every single moment.” Maybe we should change the phrase to:
Take good care of yourself too as you parent because that is important so you can enjoy more of the moments.