People are often curious about how Clara – my only daughter after four sons – came about.
“Was she a surprise?” they’ll ask. “Or were you trying for a girl?”
I don’t mind the question, but neither guess is quite right.
After a fertility history that includes a lot of “Whoops!” my pregnancy with Clara was probably the most planned. It wasn’t because we were “trying for a girl” – after four boys I’d pretty much given up any idea that could happen – but that we had a nagging feeling our family wasn’t complete, and at the age of 31, with our current youngest still a toddler, it seemed like time to either go for it or move past the idea for good.
So now I have five, and I’ve invested well over half of my life in caring for babies and small children. But things are changing.
For the first time in over 15 years, I’m not pregnant or nursing. I have no children in diapers and very few nighttime accidents. Our bed is (mostly) kid-free.
My life is completely different than it was a year or two or three ago, and for the first time, I’m looking forward instead of back.
Maybe having teenagers put the final nix on any ideas of future baby-making: first of all, they require my attention and patience in an entirely new way; and second, when you have two teens in the house and the youngest child is almost four, it’s remarkably easy to get out sans kids.
A run to the grocery store for milk? Fifteen minutes, tops. A last-minute Happy Hour invitation? I’m totally there. Jon and I go on regular dates now, an ideal we put on ice for about a decade, when we were in the thick of parenting lots of little kids. Life is easy and free in a way it hasn’t been for many – and I mean MANY – years.
Of course, there are always tradeoffs. Putting away the Christmas tree ornaments this year, it occurred to me how few holidays we have left with all five kids under the same roof. How few years playing Santa and watching their wide-open mouths as they walk into the twinkly-lit, gift-filled living room. How the next time I proudly show off a fuzzy, nuzzly newborn, it will probably be my grandbaby. (Gulp. Let’s hope that’s a long ways off.) (PS: our editor Sarah’s delicious new baby is NOT helping.)
But for once, those little twinges aren’t making me doubt. For the first time I can visualize a future with no more babies.
And that feels weird. But good. Life holds so much living beyond the years of babies and toddlers, and even if I occasionally find myself wondering “What’s next?” the truth is that I’ve been setting myself up for this moment for years by staying in touch with myself; the person I was before I started having children and the person I’ll be for the rest of my life.
I know how hard it is to see yourself being in this place when you’re straddling a baby on one hip while simultaneously cleaning up your preschooler’s spilled milk. When every trip to the grocery store is akin to herding wild animals. When nights are long and sleepless, when nipples are raw, when toddlers cling to the back of your leg as you cook dinner so tightly you can’t take real steps, when every venture out of the house is a tornado of coats, hats, boots and mittens.
So when I say “It all passes so quickly,” it’s not to chide moms for not enjoying every single second of those chaotic baby months; or to suggest that they aren’t “living in the moment” if they find themselves thinking longingly of a time in the future when they won’t be needed quite so intensely.
I know very well that moms of little ones are often entirely stuck in, absorbed by, the moment. Mothers of small children can’t help living in the moment, in fact, because often it seems to take so very long to get from one moment to the next.
All I want to offer is a little reminder that this phase, whatever it is, will pass, and sooner than you might think.
You know that, of course. But do you give yourself a chance to live it?
Because when this season is just a memory, it will be all those little efforts you’ve put into building a full life that takes yourself into account as much as your children; all the passions you’ve remembered to nurture (even if in small, fragmented ways), all the relationships you’ve taken the trouble to invest in despite the obstacles, and all the little ways you remind yourself that you are YOU that will help you create a new and rich life on the other side.
When it feels like you’re climbing a mountain, I know it’s not always possible to do much but put one hand and foot in front of the other. But try to take a moment every now and then to rest, to breathe, to think, to imagine. Because you really will hit that peak, sooner than you think.
And what’s next – what’s on the other side of that baby-toting, diaper-changing, all-night-feeding mountain?
That’s up to you. But you don’t have to wait until you get to the other side to start doing a little dreaming.