It’s my first time. Since becoming a mother, this is the first time I haven’t had a baby.
Tomorrow, my youngest son will turn two. My three boys are all 20 months apart. When anyone turned two, there was already another baby in the house. It’s been six years of consecutive pregnancies, nursing, and newborns, without a break or a beat. But now it’s been a full year since I’ve given a breast or bottle.
And lately, I find myself looking around as if something’s missing.
I’ll accidentally happen upon the infant aisle in Target and move quickly past the pacifiers and swaddle blankets, the boppy pillows and breast pumps—but not before a lump forms in my throat. No need for them now.
I ventured into my grandmother’s basement earlier this week to retrieve Rubbermaids stuffed to the brim with baby clothes–now hand-me-downs for my nephew-to-be. I pause to finger the soft cotton hospital-issue onesie and am instantly transported. Oh it’s trite, but truly, were they ever that small?
Now, while I’m fixing breakfast for his brothers, he darts by, impossibly fast, a flash of fleece pajamas and towhead blond hair. I know those pajamas, I think. Navy blue and orange with soccer balls dancing all over the legs. They are size 2T. They are the ones that always fit the toddler waiting for me to bring home his baby brother. And my arms search and heart aches for the newborn who must, it seems, be nearby.
But I only find him.
My littlest boy. Who wraps his arms around my neck and squeezes, tight. Who sits next to me and puts a plump hand in mine. Whose soft blond hair is still wispy. Whose face, when he sleeps, still resembles the grainy ultrasound picture from before we even met.
But suddenly the clarity of his language surprises me.
And his pudgy toddler thighs fill my lap.
And he helps himself to a cup of water.
Brushes his own teeth.
Now I walk by the full-length mirror and the reflection of a baby too big to be carried startles me.
And it’s almost awkward to gather him on my chest.
Tiny, yet epic moments that were somehow missed the first two times around, or at least muted by a newborn’s urgent cries or a firstborn’s insistence.
Now there is no new person here to suddenly make this boy seem huge. And so he remains my baby.
But he will be two soon. Too soon.
Even his entry to the world was earlier than expected–four days in advance of the scheduled C-section, a burst of amniotic fluid during his brothers’ bedtime routine signaling his dramatic arrival. From the start, all of it passing us by far too fast, and ever so slightly before we are ready.
And here I am, nostalgic for the hospital’s postpartum ward—its soft turquoise and peach décor, its long, slick hallways. Trays of comfort food and shuffling, doting nurses. And of course, the tiny, pink infant alternately swaddled in the plastic mobile bassinet or carefully tucked in my grateful arms.
It’s as if I don’t quite recognize myself without a newborn.
We’ve been hurtling towards two with a sense of inevitability—an impatience almost. Because ’22’ and ’23’ months are suddenly too cumbersome to say. Because it comes, regardless.
And as my sons grow, so does the chasm between what they need and what I can give. Their world will expand far beyond this home with me in it. And me, oh with my fixation on the small—from tiny newborn hands to the simple challenges of a life with little ones to the ordinary moments of our everydays.
We are outgrowing them all.
Yes, I feel tethered by my children, but anchored too. And now, as the ties slacken slightly yet steadily, I wonder what will secure me. On a recent afternoon to myself in Manhattan, I ascended the subway steps only to arrive at a corner, disoriented, battered about by brazen passersby. Without the weight of children in tow, I come loose. Whipped about, like a stray plastic bag in the breeze. A bit lost.
Sometimes I worry when they’re gone, I’ll no longer recognize myself at all.