I don’t remember the last time I nursed each of my sons. I don’t remember the last day before they spoke. I don’t remember the last time they crawled; I don’t remember the last time my oldest said “algilator” instead of “alligator,” or told me that frogs went “dubby dubby dubby dubby.” I don’t remember the last time my older two needed cuddled to sleep, or the last time they co-slept as a habit. Despite how much I babywore, I don’t remember the last time I put them up on my back. I cannot name these lasts. I cannot put my finger on them, cannot reach out and touch them. And I am grateful for that.
Because those memories would bring me to my knees.
I clung hard to the last times.
A romantic, F. Scott Fitzgerald said he had “a desperate confidence” that things won’t last.
We mothers are all romantics, I think: we know they always loom, and we cling desperately to every sweet moment, or at least I did.
I clung to every time my baby fell asleep in my lap. To every time my son cuddled up and fell asleep next to me. To every “algilator,” to every “dubby dubby,” to every chance to babywear, to every chance to nurse.
I clung especially hard as my babies grew to pudgy toddlers on surer, running legs. These lasts all felt like last dances, last chances. But I never knew for sure. So something mitigated that fear. I always had hope. I could shunt that fear to the side. I could tell myself: one more time. I could even forget the fear, could ignore it sometimes. This last will not be the last.
But so often it was.
Knowing these were last times would have overwhelmed me.
It would have overwhelmed me to know these lasts. If only I had known: this will be the last time you will nurse your son in public, my mind would have spiraled. I will no longer need these nursing bras. I will no longer need these nursing shirts. I will no longer cradle my child this way where others can see, will no longer get bitchy about lactivism. I would have sobbed the whole way through that last. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. It wouldn’t have the same everydayness that made it magical and special. It would have been a terrible event, a wrenching thing.
Its memory would be the same. Not bittersweet, but horrible.
I do remember what will likely be the last time I wore my youngest son. I have pictures, in fact. We were hiking; I wore black pants, Keanes, and an Alexander Hamilton T-shirt. Simon got tired. I slung him on my back for about a mile in a kanga carry. I used an orange wrap I loved, a short one. After awhile, his legs began to hurt, and I put him down. I didn’t think at the time that it would be the last, and so I wasn’t very upset about it. I remember where on the trail I picked him up, how I leaned over, how easily he swung up from five years of practice. I remember how easily I untied the two knots, and how quickly and acrobatically I swung him down. I stuffed the wrap in the light pack I’d handed to my oldest son to carry, took the pack from him, and finished the hike. I remember feeling vaguely sad that we hadn’t finished the hike out; I remember wondering if this was one of these lasts, and thinking: no, I’ll wrap him up again.
A normal, everyday magic would have become a sobbing, emptiness.
Our kids are growing.
As our kids get bigger, there are so many of these lasts.
The last time they need a sippie cup, the last time they sit at the kids’ table. The last time they wear a diaper; the last time they wet the bed. The last time they cuddle a beloved stuffie. These lasts go on and on. To we romantic mothers, these lasts are endless: I could list them all day. I could sit at my computer and make myself weep with them as my boys walk in and out, chattering about making time machines and playing LEGOs (one day will be the last they play with LEGOs). But they are born to walk away from us.
Our children are born for these lasts: these lasts, as much as we treasure them, mean growth. They are innumerable.
How do you measure your child’s growth? In inches? In words spoken? In steps taken or milestones achieved? In the last time he wears that cute shirt, in the last time he watches Yo Gabba Gabba? These lasts are too much for us. We should not see our children grow: it would break our hearts.
When it’s gradual, we can pretend.
We can know they walk away from us and pretend they will be our babies forever.
We know they will not last like this, we romantic parents.
But pinpointing these lasts would be too much to bear.
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