It’s coming. I can feel it.
We’ve already said goodbye to the bottle, Boppy and baby-wearing. My breast pump is gathering dust at the top of the closet (although the steady whomp-whomp of its motor still haunts my dreams). The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t just faint and flickering; it’s beaming in like the coming of the dawn. We’re almost there. It’s tantalizingly close—the space beyond life with littles, beyond the baby years.
Oh, if you saw us you’d probably argue that we still have time. My little one, well, she’s no more than a baby, really, and the oldest doesn’t start school until next fall. But I can feel it in my mama bones. My daughter is already demanding to pick out her own clothes. She’s learned to “help” with the laundry and what fun it is to color on the walls instead of paper. Toddlerhood is here in full force, with all the charm and challenges that presents. And when I’m folding clothes, I have to pause when I’m matching up socks, to make sure I can tell the difference between mine and my son’s. When did his feet get so big?
Yes, the next phase is looming on the horizon. And it should be a sigh of relief, shouldn’t it? To know that we’re about to shift gears. In the pantheon of mom life, special reverence is paid to those with little ones at home, after all. “Ohhh, I remember well those days,” they nod understandingly at the bags under our eyes, our disheveled clothes and our tenuous grip on sanity. Because they know. They remember. They remember the sleepless nights. The runny noses and coughs that start in October and run clear through April. The feeding and the diapering and the keeping everyone alive, and how some days it feels like the weight of it all will very well bury you alive.
“Hang in there. It gets better,” they console, with a pat on the shoulders.
But here I stand, on the precipice of “better” and all the promise it holds—the promise of sleep and showers and hobbies, that most foreign of concepts—and I’m frozen in place. I keep looking back at the life I know—the baby years—with all its overwhelming demands, and clutching it ever more tightly. Just a little longer, I think. I need them to need me, just this desperately and all-consumingly, for a little longer.
I even pitched the idea of having a third child to my husband—an idea he lobbed, ever so gently and yet equally firmly, right back to me. And I get it; I really do. I think he understands that it’s more of a fear of moving forward than a desire to stay where I am that’s prompting me anyway. It’s been the hardest phase of my life. It has asked more of me than I knew I could give. I’ve learned to operate from a place of depletion—where I just have to have enough to get through every day, and then I can collapse in my bed until it’s time to start again. Soon, though, there will be time for more.
And maybe, when I’m honest, that’s what I’m afraid I’m not ready for. Learning to be more than mom, again. Taking the time to chase a dream or two, instead of just chasing little ones. Losing my excuses for losing myself.
“Roots and wings” is what I whisper to myself as I mother—my reminder that all my tender work and care is for the purpose of allowing them to leave me someday and flourish on their own. But maybe there’s a promise there for me, too. Roots and wings, Mama. This life with littles isn’t my defining chapter. My roots run deeper than this phase. There was a me before them, and I’ll find her again.