Children Get Older, and I’m Getting Older Too . . .

One of my best friends had her first child at the age of twenty. She was only a few weeks postpartum when her parents moved away leaving her living with the father of her new baby, a man she still barely knew. She was soon suffering crippling panic attacks. One day her father-in-law said to her, “You know, it won’t always be like this. You won’t always be shackled down with this little baby. She’ll get older. It will get easier.”

Ten years later I became a mother and on particularly difficult days I would remember those words. The first time I ventured to the store alone worried I’d have to abandon a full cart of groceries to nurse a baby for twenty minutes.

It won’t always be this way.

The first time we attempted to eat in a sit down restaurant only to end up in a fast food drive-thru with a screaming newborn.

It won’t always be this way.

And then there were the ladies at the Le Leche Meeting telling me to “enjoy this time, it goes so fast.” I sat there with a four-week-old baby that still wouldn’t latch half the time, exhausted from pumping every three hours around the clock. I was annoyed but old enough to know, yes, you’re right.

It won’t always be this way.

But god, it felt like it would.

Seventeen months in we finally night weaned my son. I started getting a solid night’s sleep only to find myself pregnant a couple weeks later. Soon I was up every three hours again, to go pee.

Today I sit here with two kids who sleep through the night. They are four and two. Our two-year-old hasn’t pooped in her diaper in weeks. It’s time to commit to fully potty training her. Soon she’ll be in a “big girl” bed. Our house will officially no longer have a nursery. My son is closing in on five. He’s slowly become a reasonable little kid. The tantrums are almost nonexistent, almost. The two of them can now be left alone to play for small periods of time. They can actually talk to one another, share and generally act like kids. Not babies, but kids.

I have kids.

Kids.

It’s so weird.

And for the first time I can see the other side. You know what I mean, the other side of parenthood that doesn’t involve strollers, car seats, sipppy cups and diaper bags. The other side that involves family vacations without the fear of someone crying on an airplane. The side that involves family game nights and trips to the movies. The side that replaces play dates with soccer games, chess club and gymnastic meets.

The side that involves me having a career again.

And I thought I’d be sad. But I’ve passed the curve. We’ve waited too long to have another. It’s getting easier and there might be no turning back. Sure, there will always be that little tug at my heart when I see a little nursling or chubby baby thighs, but mostly I’m excited.

For the first time recently I’ve begun letting both kids out of the shopping cart in the grocery store. It’s one of those milestones that you don’t record in a baby book. Both of them walking around, staying close by and listening to me. It’s these little moments that accumulate one at a time. The first time I could trust my son not to dart out into traffic while walking to the park. The first time I could just hand my baby a sandwich instead of cutting up her food. The moment I yelled down the hall for my kid to put on his shoes and coat only to see that he was already dressed and ready to go. The day I found my baby girl could articulate, “I sad, brother hurt my feelings.”

In a million tiny little ways they get bigger everyday, and I can’t be anything but incredibly grateful.

This past week we realized that our baby girl knows the words for over 100 items in a set of flashcards which we failed to ever use. We were cleaning out the house, taking things to Goodwill and kept the flashcards; we figured she needed them. That night my husband flipped through them as she shouted out each one without hesitation, “Chair! Sun! Octopus! Ice Cream! Bread! Table! Lizard! Pants!”

“Well, I guess we don’t need these,” my husband said laughing.

When did she learn to talk? Like, really talk?

It just happens this way I guess. Father Time has to be a man because no woman would ever steal your baby from you this way. As they say about life with little kids, the days are long but the years are short.

Goddam they really are.

So lately I’m trying to soak it in. And I don’t mean that whole cliché “the dishes and laundry can wait” bullshit. The dishes and laundry have always had to wait in my house. I mean I’m staring at my toddler and trying to mentally catalogue her mannerisms. I’m telling my brain to file away the feeling of my lips on her soft chubby cheeks. I’m wishing I could photograph the smell of her breath, the feel of her silky soft hair as it slips from my hands. I’m laying in Oz’s bed at night for an extra twenty minutes and indulging in the “jump-crash-hug Mama” game, in which he physically attacks me with affection the way little boys do. My heart is breaking as he makes me a name tag to wear with his own name on it and tells me, “This is so people know you belong to me.”

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And it’s not that I want more babies. It’s that I want these babies.

These babies forever and ever.

I belong to them.

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