When did we switch from acknowledging our child’s firsts, to focusing on their lasts? At what point did we stop lining their baby book with their first words, first bike ride, first sleepover and move to the last of everything? Last bottle, last night in the crib, last day of elementary school.
It’s almost as if we’re making ourselves sad on purpose.
I began writing this blog post as a way to reach out to you sweet, young mamas deep in the trenches of raising little ones and offer a chance to learn from my mistakes. But as I prepared for this piece, I discovered two things:
- Every parent has to learn mistakes on their own time and in their own way;
- No amount of studying or advice prepares you for the journey that never ends: motherhood.
Milk to Soda
Most of you mamas have little ones. Your sweet nuggets and bite-size nutter-butters are still yummy and squishable. The soft, underside of their chin and cheek are still ripe for the noisy strawberries you blow on them. You generate ribbons of giggles from all of your kisses. The best sound in the world is a child’s laughter. BUT, I’m here to warn you, your little Cheerios, Chicken Nuggets, and Cheez-its are going to be Sushi, Smoothies, and Starbucks before you’re ready. When I was pregnant over 16 years ago and we knew we were having a son, I remember two crazy things that seasoned, well-intentioned parents told me:
- I have a penis in me (the shock value was strong with that one);
- The older your kids get, the faster time goes.
I refused to believe the second point. (The first, although strangely obvious, was undeniable.) But it didn’t seem real that time would travel any faster than it already was. The clock was spinning and the calendar flipping as fast and as wobbly as all the plates I was juggling. One minute I’m putting away pacifiers and packing up soft baby toys and in the next few seconds, my infant was celebrating his 4th birthday. Two more metaphorical minutes zoomed by and he was riding a bike and planning a camp-out party. I always thought that the minutes would slow down when my children started a mother’s day out program or pre-school. I was so wrong. The more children you have, time speeds up exponentially.
Mamas are too tired to wonder if they’re missing a first or a last.
Look, I get it. You’re in the toughest part of motherhood right now. You’re missing good sleep like an old friend. You’re wiping bottoms and dabbing diaper cream. Wiping noses and washing clothes and smelling stains to figure out what they are. You’re stuck on band-aids and Paw Patrol and all the “Mama, just one more time(s).” It’s fevers and washcloths and filling oversized medicine syringes and measuring cups with pink liquid. You’re running errands and paying bills. You’re cleaning your house as repetitively as letting the dog out, let the dog in, let the dog out, letting the dog in again and again. It never ends. You’re fixing a sippy cup while your coffee sits cold on the counter.
I see you and I remember you because I was you.
Time steals away and compresses the moments. The firsts and lasts happen automatically, but we run out of time to notice a milestone approaching and then it’s over before we appreciate that it happened. Moments pass by. Days slip into years and one afternoon your son, who once climbed into the car, will slide. His wild unruly milk chocolate curls have been smoothed into gelled dark waves. The elementary school kid who smelled like a combination of animal crackers and playground mulch, who ran to meet you with sticky hugs and unrecognizable art, will soon be the high school kid who slams the passenger car door smelling like mint gum and men’s deodorant.
I’m not asking you to remember all the details; there’s no way any mama’s busy brain could, but I’m asking you to pay attention to the spaces in between your busy life. Hold onto the last time you breastfeed and crush the laughter all over again when you remember the first time you hear them say a cuss word. I love technology as much as the next person but we are so busy capturing a moment, we end up missing the real moment. Put your phone down, slow down and soak it in. Believe me; your mama’s heart will remember what your brain forgets.
The Sneaky, Lesser-known Lasts
This last was positively heartbreaking for me, so I’m warning you before it happens in your family. I can’t remember the last time I picked my son up and set him on my hip, so I won’t be able to date stamp the last time I set him down. You’re still in the picking up and setting down stage, aren’t you? And you’re probably telling yourself that you CANNOT pick him up again. This miniature cling-on is sucking the life from your body and you cannot pick him up — not one more time and you need a break from the touching. But trust me; from one seasoned frying pan to those of you wishing you were made of non-stick, when you let him slide off your hip and set him down to stand on his own feet, hold onto his hand for just a second more and remember that that may be the last time you set him down, which means it was the last time you held him on your hip. BUT someday — out of thin air — you will make the last sippy cup. It’ll be the last time he watches Elmo, or the last playdate and the last time you read that book aloud. You’ll have your hot coffee and you won’t miss diaper cream but you’ll miss that he needs you.
Turn the Lasts into Firsts Again
Instead of focusing on the last time you held him, think instead that it will be the first time he didn’t need to be comforted in that way. Your child is developing and growing as nature intended and now your hugs replace holds. Think about the first time he did something on his own, not the last time you helped him do it.
There will be many firsts. Maybe they won’t be written down in a baby book or logged in a journal, but they will be significant. Consider their first crush or driving solo for the first time. Maybe their first job or first acceptance letter. Instead of thinking of the last measuring cup of pink medicine, celebrate the first time he swallows a pill on his own.
As I handed the car keys to my son, I’m sad that it will be the last time (for a while at least) that he’ll want me to drive him anywhere. It’s ironic that we want our kids to behave as adults but asking a 16-year-old to control a 4,000-pound vehicle gives mamas pause. We still see the little boy scared in the middle of the night. We threw back our covers and moved over as he crawled into bed dragging his favorite stuffed frog behind him. I don’t remember the last time I put him on my hip, but I’ll always remember the first time I saw him drive out of our driveway alone. I will myself not to focus on the last time I picked him up from school. Instead, I hold my breath the first time he drives home from school. Instead of the last time I take him to an allergist appointment, it’ll be the first time he has the independence to go it alone. No more trips dragging him to get a haircut, but the first time for him to make a boring errand fun to do on his own.
You Got this Mama
Don’t focus on the lasts. Bring your attention back to the firsts. The lasts will only drive you crazy and make you sad. The lasts are more about you anyway because it’s the last time he needs your help. But the firsts are about his accomplishments and reaching the next milestone.