Baby Steps

Feb 12

3437055232_9be624f003_bI originally published a version of this post on November 30, 2011, when my daughter, now three, was only nine months old. I was inspired to revisit it after rereading Katrina Kenison’s memoirs and reading this post by my friend, and new mom of three, Jenn Meer.

On Sunday I sat on the floor in the living room, kids napping behind closed doors, my husband watching football, and went through piles of outgrown baby clothes.

Like an intake nurse in the emergency room, I busied myself with triage: the impossibly small polka dot sleeper my eldest wore home from the hospital saved in a big orange Tupperware bin with his name on it; the baby blue fleece penguin-themed suit my toddler was wearing when he first sat up in another one; many more items whose significance never rose to the level of the sacred stacked less carefully in a third pile.

And then I did something I’d never done before.  Instead of placing that third group of items high up on a shelf in the boys’ closet in boxes boldly labeled, “NEWBORN” or “6 MOS,” I put them instead in giant garbage bags, threw them in the the trunk of my car, and drove them to the Goodwill collection center next to the grocery store.

Up until now, there had always been another little one in our family – or at least the idea of one – ready to inherit his or her sibling’s clothes.  But now we know that my daughter is it, the seal on our family.  So those tiny onesies and zip-up sleepers with extra fabric that fold over a baby’s hands are being passed on to other families, to clothe babies smaller than anyone in this house ever will be again.

I’ve reveled in my daughter’s babyhood more than I allowed myself to with my sons.  And that might be because I am a more experienced mom now and I tend to worry less and let more things just be.  Or it may just be that she’s an easy baby: quick to flash one of her gummy grins, happy to go with the flow of life in our crazy household.  But I suspect that my savoring of these months has even more to do with my realization from the first moment I met her that hers will be the last infancy I ever get to experience as a mother – the last first teeth, the last first words, the last first steps.

With the moment of her arrival came not a sense of panic that these moments were slipping away as quickly as they arrived, but one of completeness – of fruition – as if all the work and worry of the past five years was meant to culminate in that single moment.  Like there was some cosmic force that meant for us to have three kids, these three kids.

I know some parents fear having more kids because they can’t imagine loving another child as much as they love their first. But I realized when I saw my daughter, as I’m sure those parents do too, that having a third child would make me love my other two even more.  It would lend more dimensions to my love (now my son isn’t just my first child, he’s my oldest child, the big brother to his little siblings), just as I love my husband more now because I now know him as the father of my children.

Despite this feeling that I still have that we are just where we are meant to be, with each step forward there is both a celebration – more sleep! – and a quieter, more subtle mourning.  And I felt those paired sensations when I dropped off those bags of clothes on Sunday, as though in depositing those bags into the giant bins at the Goodwill, I was throwing away moments from my children’s babyhoods, moments we would never get back.

I got home from my mission feeling both heavy and empty.  The kids still napping, my husband now doing some work of his own, I went downstairs to my desk and opened up the copy of Katrina Kenison’s The Gift of an Ordinary Day that had been sitting there since I read it last month. As I had several times before, I looked through the passages that I had marked with neon pink Post-It notes and happened upon one whose wisdom felt like just the balm I needed at that moment.

Katrina writes

Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things.  It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we’ve loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone.  It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings.  It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.

I put the book down then and went back upstairs.  I stood in front of the bins of clothes I had kept, the most treasured items that I will save for the kids and myself.  And I said a silent benediction: not for the sweet, too small strawberry-shaped knit cap that will never again grace the head of my daughter, but for the baby she was when she wore it and for the girl and the woman she will grow to be.

Are you good at “bearing the weight of the passing of all things”? Which transition has been the hardest for you to make and to take?

Image: Baby Steps by Rory Connell via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.