I sat in church watching the family in front of me, a mother, a father, and their grown daughter. As I watched, the mother put her arm around her daughter and her woman-daughter put her head right on her mother’s shoulder. I looked down at my 5-year-old resting his head in my lap. In that moment, a truth hit me. Our grown people really will always be our babies, because when we look through our parent eyes, we can still see the babies they once were.
I look at my 11-year-old son. His face has changed so much. His teeth are those of an adult, his hair suddenly coarser and darker, his head now just under my own chin when standing side by side. But when I really look at him, I can see the tiny scar on his cheek that I used to stare at when nursing him, wondering where on earth it had come from. I can see the gap-toothed smile from when he was 6 and was super proud of one of his Lego creations. I can see in his hands that now have impossibly long fingers, the pudgy little boy hands that used to scoot his cars across the floor. He is still my baby because I can still see my baby in him.
I look at the long flowing hair of my girls and when I squint really hard can see the messy curls on their heads that were damp with sweat after waking up from a nap. I can hear their little lisps from when they were 2 and would sing “You Are My Sunshine” with the words just a little wrong. These tiny, sweet girl voices are just behind the beautiful ones that they now use to belt out songs that are actually in key and take my breath away in a whole new way. They are still my babies, and I love that I can still see my babies in them.
I feel their hugs around my neck—so different now that they can reach my neck standing next to me. But, when I close my eyes, I can feel the hugs that used to come from chubby arms stretched as I held them up and they rested their tiny baby heads on my shoulder. They are almost grown now but still ask for a “kid sandwich,” a hug that has mom on one side, kid in the middle, and dad on the other. No one has to hold them up in these hugs now. They stand tall on their own two feet, but when they are snuggled in between us I still feel my babies there.
I see my 5-year-old, stretched out so tall under his sheets. His legs getting longer and stronger. His feet look like those of a little boy and not a baby. He is no longer so round and chubby, and when he runs, it is only a little funny. His arms are straightening out and he is going faster, away from us. I look at his back and realize that in a blink he will be as tall as his brother, as tall as his sister, then taller than me. I wonder if when he is shaving and his voice is as deep as a man’s, will I still be able to see my baby in there?
Because I can see my baby in each of them, I want to hold them close. Closer than they want to be held sometimes. I reminded my boy this morning that I worry about him not having a coat for the bus stop because I spent the first few years of his life swaddling him and making sure he was always warm and safe. As he looks at me (with a look that is pretty close to pity), he tells me that he is fine. He doesn’t need a coat. I feel for a small minute that he means he doesn’t need me. But then I remind myself that my baby is still in there, I just don’t have to worry about him as I did then. He is growing. He is spreading his wings. But he needs me in new ways; they all do.
They need me now not to swaddle and feed and tuck in and push them on the swings, but to help with English homework, talk through problems, drive them to baseball practice, and help them learn their part for the school play. These things contain their own glorious moments of motherhood, different than those that came before but just as sweet in a new way. But even as we grow in a new direction, I look back and see we are the sum of all that came before. We are layering on the new, not replacing the old. The past is still in there, so when the time is right they become my babies again, if just for a moment. My soul rejoices that the babies I loved are still in there—what a gift.
I hug them close when I can, savoring the moments they let me mother the babies that are still within them, hoping they will always need that a little bit. Then I stand tall, take a deep breath, and mother them as they are now. I rejoice in their independence, their strength, and know that this is the job description. We are readying our babies, and ourselves, for the adults that they will become. I look at them in awe, my dear favorites, even as what I love about them becomes different and new. I take in the wonder that are my sweet people and know that no matter what is to come, they will always be my babies.