Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker
There are a ton of bottles and bibs stuffed haphazardly into one of my kitchen cabinets. And breast pump parts and milk storage bags and bottle cleaning brushes and pacifiers. And they all fall out on me in an inconvenient avalanche, followed by a swear word muttered under my breath, every time I open it. My youngest, my last baby, is almost 21 months old; you'd think I'd get rid of it all and score myself some sweet storage space for more useful things, like
But I can't.
It's the same with the tiny pair of tennis shoes, long outgrown, that have been worn by all four of my kids. Or the last few favorite outfits that nobody's been able to wear for at least six months. (Okay. Eight months. Or maybe ten ... ish.) All taking up room in a closet I could totally be using for all the stuff that needs a home.
I can be on a cleaning binge, breezing through the house with a trash bag, ruthlessly throwing away crayon drawings and broken toys, triumphantly getting rid of all the stuff I once thought I might need someday. But then I come to those cabinets. And that closet. Just when I think I've mustered up the strength to give all the baby things away ... I stand there for a minute. I run my fingers over the little outfits, and remember how adorable my pudgy little babies looked wearing them, and then it starts: that deep and inevitable ache. A nagging sadness, bubbling to the surface of my consciousness, squeezing my chest and throat like a vise grip. And I close the door and walk away with a half-empty trash bag.
What stops me from getting rid of all that stuff? I don't know. It certainly isn't logic, because it would certainly make more sense to clear it out. But to purge my house of all the baby things is to, effectively, purge my house of all the babies. When I think about that - no more babies, ever - I feel like my heart is going to stop. It's not that I feel incomplete. It's not that I want more. In fact, I think any more kids would throw off the equilibrium in the house: right now we have a nice even number, and I can't even imagine how much the dynamic would change if we were to throw a girl into the mix.
I guess it's that getting rid of the baby things feels like moving on. Like I'm rushing something that already feels like it's happening too fast. I look at my "baby" and am painfully aware that he's no longer an infant. Racing around, climbing, jumping, talking in sentences, being very clear about what he likes and dislikes. It has happened in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it time frame, and I'm digging my heels in and trying to slow down the process while he's racing ahead, developing in leaps and bounds, growing big and tall and robust. Just the way he should.
But oh ... my heart.
I have spent the last eight years mothering babies. When one grew out of infancy and toddlerhood, here came the next to fill the void. Now, whether I'm ready or not, I'm done with all that. And I'm left standing here, silently screaming, "Wait! Nobody asked me if I was okay with this!"
The piece of advice I've heard most frequently in my years of motherhood, from everyfreakingbody, is to enjoy this time because it goes so fast. And I admit, it was hard to enjoy when I was knee-deep in poop and perpetually crusted with spit-up and in the midst of high-pitched whining from all directions. I tried not to take the sweet, quiet moments for granted, but even so, I still found myself wishing time would speed up a little so they wouldn't be so needy. I couldn't wait for the miracle of self-sufficiency. Potty-training? I thrust my second and third sons onto the big-boy toilet by the time they were a year old in hopes I had some pee-pee prodigies on my hands. Because diapers? Ew. I was sooo over them. The earlier they could learn to do things on their own - the faster they grew up and let me off the hook - the better.
Yesterday, though, my almost-two-year-old spontaneously whipped off his diaper and ran to the toilet - on his own - shouting, "Pee-pee, Mommy!" And instead of being elated, I was deflated. My baby? No, he isn't old enough to ... oh wait. I guess he is.
He's old enough to do a lot of things.
Except stay my baby for much longer.