I am nursing my first born and look up at the digital clock across the room. It strikes me that it reads 2:32 a.m. He is exactly 24 hours old and I am in the hospital. I am trying to teach him how to nurse, but know I have nothing to teach yet; I’ve never done this before either. We’re both novices and we’ll learn together. I feel like I had him a moment ago, but have known him for a lifetime. He hangs in there, I hang in there, and eventually we find our way.
Then I am sitting in my living room and suddenly he is walking around, throwing toys out of his toy bin. He’s gotten more demanding lately, always wanting something. I love it and can’t stand it all at the same time. I am exhausted, and need a break more than I ever thought I would. Taking care of him, and growing his sister inside of me, is tiring and I never get enough sleep. I daydream about when he’s older and won’t need me for every little thing. In the short time he has been with us, he has already taught me that it’s possible to be really frustrated with someone while still loving them so damn much it almost hurts. I can’t explain this to him, of course.
Then I am leaning over him, his shoes are on the wrong feet. His younger brother is on my hip, while I try to teach him to tie his shoes. He is frustrated because he can’t do it himself, and he doesn’t want my help. I have a baby and two toddlers on top of me now, and his crying sends me over the edge. So I do tie his shoes for him, because we need to get the hell out of the house. I need different air. I need my kids strapped down. I want to see trees and get some caffeine and, dammit, I hope to find some relief. Just a little bit to recharge, then I can handle the weight of motherhood again.
Then he is in the fourth grade. He wants Angry Bird cupcakes brought into school to celebrate his birthday, and I stay up late into the night making them. We’ve reached a point where I can put my kids to bed, and they all stay there all night, not waking me until the morning. I no longer feel so depleted, so I have the energy to make cupcakes while they sleep. He wakes up the next morning and is over the moon about the cupcakes, but he asks me to carry them into his classroom. “It’s so embarrassing,” he tells me. So I take them in, knowing it will probably be the last year he wants to bring something into school to celebrate his birthday.
Then he is 11, riding his old bike. He starts working with his grandfather in the summer to earn enough money to buy a new mountain bike. He saves, and saves some more. Finally, in September, he has enough and he proudly buys it himself. He talks to the salesman about bikes, and I see a glimpse of an older boy. A gentleman. Someone who is so knowledgeable about bikes and how they are put together and, for some reason, he looks different to me from that day forward.
Now he is almost 14 years old, getting ready for his first semi-formal dance on the last day of junior high school. “Do you need to bring a corsage or flowers?” I ask him. “No,” he says immediately. “People don’t do that, Mom. How dumb.” And so I trust him and we show up without one. I drop him and his friend off at the curb and they beg me to leave, so I park up the road a bit to watch them wait for their dates.
How did we get here? Where did that little boy go? One day we are teaching our kids how to tie their shoes, then suddenly we are watching them get ready for their first semi-formal dance, and we realize they teach us just as much as we teach them.
One day, we catch a glimpse of our child, doing something simple like fixing their hair or making a sandwich. They know we are watching them, but they have no idea we are thinking about the first time we held them. They don’t know we feel a pang of guilt for all the times we needed to be away from them. They don’t have a clue as to how much we actually love them. They aren’t aware we are seeing them as a baby, a toddler, a small child, as the man or woman they are becoming, all at the same time.
They have no idea they are taking our breath away.