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.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea February 12, 2014 at 9:17 am

This is beautiful, Kristen. I have that book on my shelf, waiting to be read. I should get to it! It’s so strange, having a child on the brink of the teen years, the top of his head just grazing the tip of my nose. It’s almost like I can’t reconcile the baby/toddler/boy he was with the man-child he’s becoming…like they’re all different people, who have come and gone in my life, one exchanging himself for the next while I was busy looking the other way. I often remonstrate myself for having not slowed down, paid enough attention during those early years, and then I have to remind myself to slow down and pay attention now. But life keeps galloping by.

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Kristen February 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

It’s a must read, Andrea. Move it to the top of your list! :)

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Perfecting Motherhood February 13, 2014 at 2:16 am

I think we all have plenty of opportunities to remember our children as babies now and then. As much as I’ve loved my kids since they were born, I don’t really miss the early days, mostly because I love to watch my kids grow, develop their own talents and personality, and enlighten me every day. They often ask me to tell them stories about when they were babies. I love that too. I think I’ll miss these young years more when my kids get older and don’t want to give me a hug, a kiss or a cuddle all the time. I’m not looking forward to that day.

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Kristen February 13, 2014 at 1:41 pm

That makes a lot of sense, Milka. I was never crazy about the sleepless, all-consuming baby days either. And my daughter is still very much a full-time cuddler. When those days disappear? Then I may very well be a mess!

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Lindsey February 13, 2014 at 7:14 am

No. I am not good at this at all. At. All. And what you write brings tears to my eyes, as does even the mention of Katrina’s work. That passage is among my very favorites. xox

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Kristen February 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Me too. In my copy of Ordinary Day, it’s underlined, highlighted, and starred! :)

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lisa February 13, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I ran out of tissues at the most inopportune time! This is beautiful. I kept some of my daughter’s baby clothes and now see them on my grand girls! I probably keep more than I need to keep for “memory” sake. Someday when I have to downsize, I’m sure they will need to be given away [sigh].

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Kristen February 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I have a number of dresses of mine (some of which were once my mom’s!) that my daughter wore when she was a baby. I love knowing that your grand babies are wearing your daughter’s clothes too. The circle of clothes! :)

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slamdunks February 13, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Lovely, thanks for sharing Kristen.

I have not reached the most difficult time yet. It will be when no one wants to go to the playground with me or play tag or backyard whiffle ball. Spending time with the kiddos is something that I treasure.

Perhaps all is not lost though–maybe in a few years when that time comes, they will call me grandpa and I’ll still have that opportunity.

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Kristen February 14, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I’ve often heard it say that becoming a grandparent brings all the joy of parenting without as much of the responsibility. Sounds like a good deal to me! :)

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D. A. Wolf February 14, 2014 at 3:27 pm

This is as lovely and poignant as ever. I wish there were clearer memories of my boys when they were little, but it is always surprising how recollections can flood in with the sound of laughter or an aroma in the kitchen or even their voices on the phone.

There are so many challenges to each stage, and at least as many extraordinary “everyday” moments.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Kristen.

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Nina February 15, 2014 at 11:25 pm

I’m where you were at that point. My twins are now nearing one-year-old and I can’t believe it. With my first, we kept looking into the future: “When will he walk?” “When will he talk?”

With the twins (and the last of my kids), I don’t look for those milestones anymore. I just take it as it comes, and relish in each moment knowing how friggin’ quickly they will be gone.

We have also had to donate their smaller baby clothes instead of storing them in huge bins. I don’t try to think about it too much, as then I start thinking about aging and dying and who knows what else when I was just thinking about baby socks :)

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