When my son was four months old, I took him to the community college where I was working for the semester. It was the end of August, and I needed an ID card, paperwork, a quick check of the classrooms I’d be teaching in. I didn’t have a babysitter, so I strapped on the Baby Bjorn and wandered the halls, going from the Humanities Department to the library to a small conference room to get my picture taken. There, in front of the camera, I unstrapped him, lowered him to the floor and smiled, my face red with the exertion of carrying his weight back and forth across campus.
That day, as I huffed and put books on the library counter, one of the librarians spoke frankly to me. “I can’t believe my kids were that tiny,” she said. “When they’re young, you’re tired because it’s so physical. When they get older….” she sighed. “It’s all emotional.” She scanned my books and pushed them aside. “You think it’s going to last forever.” I nodded. I agreed that time went fast. His facial features were already changing every day, I said. He was on finger foods already.
I knew what she was talking about, because I had heard it dozens of times. For the past two months, though, I’ve felt it. You do think it’s going to last forever, when you’re 27 and say you’re exhausted from carrying your one baby on a strap against your chest.
You really, really do.
Throughout Mr. B’s life, I’ve told myself to appreciate each new stage. (Of course that’s impossible, because I’m human.) Those baby years, the toddler years, the days I was alone in my house with only the radio and his brown eyes for company felt like forever. The bottle-warming, the diaper-changing, the stepping on Cheerios. The laundry full of spit-up and applesauce. Never ending, it seemed.
And yet now my family is on a seesaw, going from firm grounding on one side of the dirt to a weightless place higer up in the air. In the same summer, my daughter is almost done potty-training, I took a new, full-time job, my husband got a better job, and Mr. B is going off to kindergarten.
It’s the end of an era.
I sort of can’t believe how much motherhood is constantly having to reconfigure your identity. First, I wasn’t a mother. Then I was. I was the mother of a baby, a woman obsessed with how long he slept and fed, a mother who thought his schedule was the central axis on which the world depended. I was a mother ready for him to reach each new stage: the big-boy bed, the potty, the first haircut. I looked forward to the end of bottles and formula, rice cereal, sippy cups and bibs.
Then I became a mother of a toddler and a baby. Then two toddlers. Now, a school-age boy and an almost-three-year old girl.
My five-year-old boy is sassy, smart, eager to spell and dress like the big kids. He wants to know the things older kids know, to do homework, to figure out what the big deal is about Jesus, to play soccer and video games and wear boxer briefs instead of just briefs.
Meanwhile, for the past five months, I’ve stopped taking him to get his hair cut. Now it’s long, falling into his eyes. (I know this is not a coincidence.)
All I can do is try to be present and focused, to write, to forgive myself for ever wishing away the days, to marvel about how time keeps stomping on, no matter who is in its way. And I can hug him, and fold up his skinny legs, and pretend he’s still the baby who nestled inside me and made me giggle with joy for months on end.
But don’t expect my eyes to stay dry as I watch him amble up the path to his new school, his messenger bag slung across his slim shoulder, his brand new too-big sneakers on his feet. He will always be my little boy, the piece of my heart willfully wandering outside my body, no matter where he goes.