My oldest child, my son, is turning 17 years old in just a couple of weeks.
17….unbelievable. How did that happen!? Little shrimpy 5’1” tall me, looking up at this looming 6’3” man who lives in my house and shares my name but isn’t my husband. Finally leaving his room at 10:30am on Saturday, he says in his deep man-voice, “Good morning Mom….I have to go to work…see you later.” And just like that he’s gone again as the front door closes behind him and I stare at the closed door for longer than I really should. Alone I sit, looking at the door, and a tears come to my eyes.
My husband points out that we only have about another year left that we will all be sitting down as a complete family unit at the dining room table together. Sure, we’ll always be in touch and see the kids – but we will likely get together as a full family around the holidays. And that’s if I’m lucky. This thought brings stinging tears to my eyes.
When ‘they’ kept saying, “it goes by too fast!”….what ‘they’ mean is that memories don’t fade. My childhood is foggy, a distant memory of playing outside and brief snapshot memories of friends or school. But raising our children – that memory doesn’t get foggy. I remember this almost-17 year-old man’s first week as clearly as I remember this past Christmas. I remember the clothes I dressed him in….I remember the chair I would sit in and rock him. I remember the smell of his silky hair, the feeling of him cuddled up in a little ball between my breasts as I rubbed his back. I remember rejoicing in the tiniest of accomplishments – learning to coo, smiling, rolling to his side – as well as the big ones.
I also remember the insecurity that came with being his mother, and how it felt when people said things like, “How will he learn independence if you always rock him to sleep? Are you going to rock him to sleep for the rest of his life?” “He sleeps in your bed?? How will he ever learn how to sleep on his own!?” “If you stand them up against a wall, that will help them to learn to walk faster.” “They must learn to play by themselves – it’s not your job to always entertain them…leave him alone and he’ll learn to do it by himself.”
As I stare at the closed front door, alone, I wonder what the hell was so terrific about independence. I would give anything to rock him to sleep on my lap one more time….for the days when I didn’t have to say goodbye after a few moments of seeing him.
My family went out to dinner the night before last – Olive Garden (“When you’re here, you’re family”). As my husband looked past my shoulder he said with a sigh, “Poor baby.” I casually tried to glance around and saw an itty bitty baby that couldn’t have been older than a couple of weeks – sitting in a bucket car seat with a blanket draped over his chest propping up a bottle in his mouth. What looked to me to be his parents along with grandparents and a group of 6 people were chatting, not a single one looking at the baby. Finally the dad took the bottle out of the baby’s mouth – and baby started to cry. He tried multiple times to put a pacifier into his mouth – the baby refused, continuing to cry. He then tried to put the bottle back in the baby’s mouth…baby cried, moving his head from side to side…but the dad grabbed his head and pushed the bottle back into the baby’s mouth.
The baby stopped crying. How can you cry when flat on your back with milk being dripped into it? But baby stopped crying, so the father turned back to the table. He was the only one who had even turned to look at the baby.
I began to wonder how we got so detached from our children. When did a baby’s cry become something easy to ignore? I wondered when this little boy turned 17, would these parents be glad that he’s independent enough to walk out that front door with barely a goodbye, or will they LONG for the days of his babyhood once more? I really do wonder what causes this disconnect – is it from the common birth practices in this country? Where labor sensations are immediately removed via epidural, newborns are immediately removed to a warmer, breasts are immediately replaced with a bottle or pacifier, arms are immediately replaced with car seats and carriers and swings….
Independence….bah. Of course I want to raise happy productive members of society – but someone will have to explain to me one more time the benefit of independence in our children. I am 42 years old, and my independence is a façade. I am not ‘independent’….I am totally dependent on my husband, children, friends, society…..I could never live on a deserted island. I do not live in a vacuum. I do not sleep alone or play alone. I appreciate when I am upset having my husband wrap his arms around me and letting me cry into his chest. If *I* don’t want that kind of alone life – why is that a goal for our children?
I understand needing a moment without the toddlers climbing on us – but BABIES don’t climb, they don’t understand “just a minute”, they really don’t demand much for their joy. Babies need food, safety, comfort. That’s about it. But we complicate this parenting thing with a lot of what other people think we SHOULD do (or not do). Instead of listening to our hearts and our babies, we let them cry…we don’t bring them to our breasts…we ignore and are bothered by and don’t nurture.
And even when we do try to treasure every moment with this little creature….they still grow up anyways. And you will still be left sitting alone on the couch staring at a closed front door wondering how the time went by so quickly. What do you think you will remember the most about their first year – how hard it was to listen to them cry themselves to sleep? How challenging it was to get them to be by themselves? Will you remember how many times your baby cried while in a carseat in a restaurant and rather than pick them up you rocked the carseat and tried to prop a bottle up in their mouth?
I will remember the way he would fall off the breast, milk spilling out of his sweet bow-tie mouth, peaceful in my arms, using my breast as a pillow as I quietly rocked him. I treasure those moments that I was warned me would ruin him. It is in that moment that every other piece of joy in my life shall be measured – and lose. Life doesn’t get better than in that moment.
So please, I beg you…..tonight as you rock your 2 month old baby, praying they would go to sleep, thinking about just putting them down to cry by themselves feeling yourself getting frustrated…take a moment and think about the closed front door I’m staring at while sitting alone in my family room.
And please look down at this person in your arms and appreciate your view.