Location: Charlotte, NC
Noah was about six months old, and I had just finished a middle of the night nursing. The house was quiet but for the back and forth of the chair and Noah’s contented, nursing-drunk gurgles. He was on his way back to sleep, but his big blue eyes would flutter open and fix on mine, then shut again. His pink cheek was on my chest, his fuzz of red hair tickling me every time he moved, and his little hand was clenched around my finger. I wasn’t thinking about how soon I could get away with putting him back in his crib or if I would be able to get a few more hours of sleep before he woke up for the day. What I thought when I looked down at him was that I wanted to freeze him in that moment. I teared up thinking about how much he had already grown and changed and fervently wished I could just hit the pause button and keep him just like this.
That nostalgia, that longing for a stage of childhood to last, never goes away. And it is universal. My friend Joanna recently made a Facebook post about a similar moment with her youngest daughter. She lay with her at bedtime, holding hands, and posted about how fleeting these moments are and how determined she was to cherish them while they lasted. But what I told Joanna when I ran into her at the JCC gym the next day, from my perspective of having much older kids, is that each childhood milestone you are reluctant to leave behind yields an even better one around the corner. The cuddles of my babies gave way to toddlers who could talk and develop senses of humor. Watching personalities unfold and unique ways of navigating the world was my reward for giving up the bonding of middle of the night feedings. And as my kids grew, our relationship evolved, just as my own did with my parents.
Now my three kids are among my favorite people on the planet. They would be my picks for traveling companions, for dinner party guests, and for sounding boards and advisory panels for things that warrant discussion. I take great pride as a mom in the smart and socially engaged people they have become, in their kindness and their talents and the paths they are forging in their lives. But I also just have a lot of fun with them. Last night we went out to dinner with Eliza and her friend in the South End. We drove separately, and soon after we parted ways to walk back to our respective cars, Eliza called me. “Come back here immediately,” she said. “You need to just come back right now.” I knew that meant there was a puppy, and sure enough, when I rejoined Eliza, I was rewarded with an adorable little black lab puppy whose owners could not believe I had been summoned to see. But Eliza knew I would come running, and puppy pics frequently show up in my online conversations with the girls. (We were asked by the other members of the family group chat to please start our own group so that David and Noah would not keep getting interrupted at work with puppies taking baths or memes of dogs being mischievous.)
To be sure, I am still a mom. Parenting at this stage is not all puppy memes. There is advice to give (most solicited at this point, but some still annoyingly unsolicited) and comfort and counsel. And there are things to struggle through and things I won’t get right. But I wouldn’t trade this stage of motherhood for anything that preceded it. I love being able to have deep conversations with my kids, to learn from them and feel awe (and a certain degree of envy) at how much more knowledgeable or skilled they are in certain areas, and gratified that they still come to me for others. And I know more milestones await, as they carve out careers and relationships and one day become parents themselves. Navigating each new phase might be the greatest challenge of motherhood – knowing when to step back and watch and when to step in. Being able to let go, even if that sweet little finger wrapped around yours is something you never want to end. My mom told me last night when I called her that she had just been telling someone about me and my stubbornness, how I always did my own thing. Sure, some of that is genetic, and I was born with it. But some of that is because my mom knew to let me, and she got out of the way and cleared a path for me to be me. That is the greatest gift she gave me, and it is has yielded the greatest gifts I now enjoy as a parent. I have done some amazing things in my life, but I look at Noah, Hannah and Eliza as my greatest accomplishments. I am so very proud of them, of the relationships they have with each other and with us, and the mark they have already had on the world.
On this Mother’s Day, and on every day, this mom’s heart is full.