Baby Love

I want a baby.

Not a third baby — and no, I don’t want your baby (nice try, though).

I want my baby back. The boy or the girl, it doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe both of them.

Just not at the same time.

For the past few months I have been going through this horrible, embarrassing midlife “thing” where I love babies. LOVE them. And because the stars are aligned or life is really cruel my Facebook and Instagram feeds seem to be overflowing with wee little ones who are sleeping, learning to walk, just born or maybe celebrating a first birthday. Chubby little thighs, the tiniest of fingers and a smattering of fine, wispy hair. The bright blue-eyed babes are especially yummy, as both of mine sport different shades of blue, even into their teen years.

These babies in my stream? Clean slates, all of them. Asking nothing more from you than to hold them, feed them and love them unconditionally. What is simpler and more life-affirming than a brand new baby? It’s a fresh start, a reminder that life goes on. A reason to love yourself a wee bit more than you did. Babies don’t hold grudges, roll their eyes when you ask a favor or leave their socks on the floor. They take a lot of care, but what they give back you can’t get anywhere else. Joy, happiness, that look of I-love-you-so-very-much that you can only get from a little one without a curfew, a driver’s license or a list of chores to complete.

I find myself willing my soul back in time, grabbing frantically for what was once my daily life with babies and trying to remember. To remember how it felt to snuggle a sleepy one right up next to my neck in the early-morning hours when the rest of the house slept. To remember what it felt like to bathe that tiny first baby, so afraid he would slip from my hands and be hurt, or scared.

To remember hearing, “It’s a boy!” and “It’s a girl!” and both times feeling that somehow I already knew who they were, that I could feel their presence in my daily life since those little lines appeared on the pregnancy tests. To remember when they started to dance, to sing and to play pretend — and all of it without any feelings of self-consciousness or anxiety. To remember what it felt like to rock in the kitchen with a baby girl on my hip and feel her heartbeat through my hand on her tiny back. To soothe tears, protect, console, teach, or just to be in the moment.

But I can’t remember.

You’re making memories!” people loved to say to me during those late afternoon grocery store runs or endless hours spent pushing a swing robotically at the park. I probably say that now, to my much-younger friends who are just starting their little families. And somewhere, deep inside they get it. They know too, that while their time feels long and routine and boring it will all end faster than they can imagine.

But memories! “You will have all the memories!” they shout. But the memories you make aren’t all solidly defined or outlined as time goes by. Some memories have jagged edges, some are raw and painful and many of your memories won’t match up with how your kids remember them (which is a shock). But then there are moments that stand alone as if a searchlight shines on them, so vivid and defined that you can relive them at any time.

Just rewind.

But other memories? The day-to-day routine, the bath times and the bedtimes, endless renditions of Hop on Pop or Brown Bear, Brown Bear and the countless boxes of mac and cheese I made, scraping the bottom for a few scraps of my own. The “firsts” and the “lasts” for each baby, from taking tentative first steps to losing a first tooth to starting high school.

To graduation, and beyond.

They blur together — like a fog that I can’t see through just yet. I comb through boxes of printed photos (yes, my little ones were pre-digital) that span an entire childhood and I can “see” it all. It happened, it was real and we all lived to tell about it. There were camping trips and amusement parks, birthdays and sleepovers, friends, family, beloved pets and favorite toys. I didn’t have a blog or a journal when mine were small. We made videos and took pictures, so we do have lots of great memories stored in boxes down the hall.

But the blur of memory that I have of those 20 years is unsettling to me right now. I honestly thought I would remember more vividly. I worry at times that I am truly starting to lose my memory, one old and faded mental photograph at a time.

But just give me that baby. My baby, either one of them.

If only I could relive a day with my baby girl on my hip, or my baby boy laughing so hard he would lose his breath.

I promise I would remember — I really would.

I would just love to hit rewind again.

mom and baby girl

A Mother’s Best Asset

She steps into the exam room, staring at the chart the nurse shoved into her hands and is quickly trying to assess my medical history in the 5 steps between the door and the exam table.

She looks up, squints at my forehead a wee bit too long, and then fixes her gaze just a bit lower.

“Your friends must be envious of your skin!” she proclaims, making me question either her eyesight or her medical credentials.

Possibly both.

Apparently she missed the reason for my appointment that clearly states “35-year acne sufferer” and “what the hell can I use for these wrinkles” as reasons for my dermatologist visit today.

“Um, NO,” I say, maybe a little bit too quickly. “My skin is nothing to brag about,” I add, instantly wishing I were sitting in the dental chair instead.

With nitrous oxide.

“Your neck!” she exclaims, “The skin on your neck is smooth and firm, beautiful,” she says, with a glint in her eyes that almost makes me believe her. If she wasn’t young enough to be my daughter.

Maybe she had wine with lunch.

At this point, I am forced to ponder my neck… a part of my body I have never considered as a separate entity, I guess. The biggest job my neck has is holding my head up and supporting a necklace now and then. And even then I have been known on many occasions to simply rest my head on my desk after a particularly strenuous bout of editing. So even my neck can be lazy.

My neck? Never a point of conversation until now.

My babies have nuzzled my neck after midnight feedings, when the lure of sleep called to me from the bedroom but motherhood won and I stayed just a few moments longer on the couch to drink in their sweet, milky scent. My neck has comforted a little girl with a broken arm, a boy who lost his grandfather, kids mourning the loss of their first family dog and a dear friend who lost her husband too early and too tragically. My neck snuggled my mother when she lost her husband too many years too soon and cradled my husband when he lost not one but both of his beloved grandfathers.

I have craned my neck ever-so-slightly to see if a teenager’s car has pulled up in the driveway yet… at half past 11. My neck has betrayed me with osteoarthritis and sent me to physical therapy on more than one occasion.

My neck? It may not be much to brag about, or a part of my body that my much-younger friends will envy. But this neck — my neck — has proven to be an incredibly valuable part of my anatomy that I simply take for granted most days.

“Yes,” I stammer. “My neck is amazing,” I finally say.

And I smile a little bit bigger…

In spite of the huge zit on my chin.

neck and necklacs

Happy Birthday, 20

I see his lips moving, but I don’t hear a word he’s saying. Instead, my attention is drawn to the stubble of a day-old beard that sprinkles his cheeks and chin.

Caught by surprise yet again at this man who still inhabits my heart as a baby.

My son just turned 20. And it’s cliche and ridiculous and so dramatic, but at these moments when I notice… really notice… that he truly is grown up now, I ache for the years that have melted away.

For the years when his chin was a place I wiped dribbles of mac and cheese from, not a place he needed to shave. For the years when I was drawn into his little face by those intense blue eyes and adorable cleft in his chin. I could stare at him for hours back then… while he slept, while he ate, while we just cuddled.

Not so cool to stare at him now.

So we coexist as adults for the most part, chatting about school or work or the latest scientific discovery. He’s full of ideas and theories, and loves to share them or debate them. His jokes make me laugh and I can still share a funny YouTube video now and then that cracks him up. Life moves forward and it’s easy to forget that he was my baby.

Is my baby, still.

There was a turning point somewhere, the tipping point where my parenting of him had reached maximum capacity, where advice and comments and mandates stopped being processed by his young adult brain.

And inside, I know that was the plan all along. To parent, to guide, to counsel and to adore. To build his confidence and his character, to help him survive heartbreak and disappointment and move forward with grace.

And even now, as I watch him talk and laugh I am awed by the simple fact that I am his mom. That I was given these 20 years with him unconditionally, even though I had no experience and there were no guarantees that I would be a good mother.

I just made it up as we went along.

No do-overs now. No second chances to go back and try a different path.

I wouldn’t really change a thing.

Because my boy, this young man who sits in front of me (and is apparently still talking) has given me the incredible gift of just being his mom.

And he will always be the baby in my heart.

baby boy

Brotherly love

In the beginning, it was all about him. First-born, first grandchild, first nephew…his place in our extended family cemented by the simple fact that he was born.

First.

He was a wise old soul in a little-boy body. Adults loved to chat with him, listening to his volumes of memorized dinosaur facts or advice about which types of plastics are recyclable. He spoke clearly and fluently, forming complete sentences before he had a complete set of teeth. He told jokes that made sense and understood sarcasm. My days were so full of questions and observations that at times I felt more like a tour guide than a mom.

Playgroups at the park were a part of our weekly routine, and I craved the time with my mom-girlfriends. I knew that the social interaction with other little ones was very important for my son, but secretly most of us form playgroups for our own adult sanity. It was in these early playgroups that I began to notice what the other little boys did. They were usually quite physical – running, jumping, pushing each other around just a bit to test their wee-manhood. My son preferred to play in the sand, creating an elaborate “recycling center” with the pails and trucks, only to be confused and upset when the other boys didn’t understand his passion. Being an old soul may make you the favorite of preschool teachers and drugstore cashiers, but it creates quite a gap on the playground.

I worked very hard to match him up with potential playmates and buddies, to teach him to be patient on the playground, and to open his eyes to the fact that not every 3-year-old was interested in fossils or the Latin names of birds. He needed another tour guide.

Along came his baby sister.

Being an only child and having a sibling thrust into your limelight isn’t easy. My son was intrigued at first, somewhat perplexed at how she really wasn’t able to do anything. He would correct me when I would say the baby was “talking” and remind me that no, she couldn’t talk yet. He never seemed jealous or spiteful, perhaps just a bit discouraged at her lack of ability to carry on a conversation or play recycling center with him. When her cries interrupted bedtime stories too often, he wondered why she had to cry at all, since she wasn’t hurt.

And then, a slight shift in the relationship. Around the time my daughter was about 18 months, it happened. I left them in the playroom for a bit while I went to load the washing machine or some other daily task. When I returned, I could hear my son talking to his sister about a game he was playing and giving her a role. Peeking quietly around the corner, I saw her huge grin and I knew she sensed it too.

She was in.

Over the years their games changed and evolved, but they would play for hours together, lost in their pretend world. My role as tour guide had been taken over by a pint-sized, energetic little girl who was eager for the challenge. Having someone who loves you no-matter-what and who will tolerate your thoughts and opinions is an incredible gift. My daughter had provided my son with a different way to view the world, something I had not been able to do on my own.

It was magic.

Both are now teenagers. My son, in his third year of college, and my daughter a sophomore in high school. Role-playing games have been replaced by wise cracks, sarcasm and text messages, or maybe a ride to soccer practice or the mall. I love listening to them talking and teasing each other, analyzing the ins and outs of high school life, pop culture and anything else that seems funny or might embarrass mom. She has finally become the equal he wanted her to be.

And he is her tour guide now.

————————————————————

This piece originally ran on Moonfrye

A Milestone Love

milestone loveThe restaurant is crowded, unusually so for a Tuesday night. The waitress lets the specials roll off her tongue as she does on any other night, and we pretend to listen even though we’ve all chosen our main courses already.

Table for four. While this happens with amazing regularity at home, we don’t often manage to sync our schedules and go out for dinner together. Old habits die hard, and I am usually just as happy making dinner and sharing it around our table.

But tonight is different.

My husband has a milestone birthday today. And while the other diners may think they are having a special meal with colleagues or friends, I feel as if there is a bubble around our table tonight.

A bubble that holds within its rounded edges the three people I hold the most dear in my heart.

A bottle of wine arrives, along with something tamer for the teens with bubbles and cherries. We raise our glasses in a toast to my husband and I catch his smile as he thanks us for spending this evening with him.

It’s magic… like all of the times I have seen this man smile, but deeper, almost. He’s in his happy place, with his family, and there is no place else he’d rather be right now.

I feel a lump form in my throat that I push aside. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to take away from his moment.

He wanted to be with us.

When people would ask, “Where are you going for the BIG birthday?” he never wavered, really. Offers of exotic beach vacations, ski lodges or weekends in Napa didn’t entice him. Sure, they all sound like fun… but he wanted more.

He wanted to be with us.

To start the second 50 years of his life with his family, to listen to our stories and laughter and bask in the glow of that kind of love that nobody else can give you.

And as I watched him raise his glass to us, to another 50 years, to our family I couldn’t help but be in awe of this man who has given me so very much. Family, unconditional love, laughter.

And he wanted to be with us.

Happy Birthday, babe… here’s to another 50.

Someone Might Color Again

crayons on tableI can’t remember the very first box, although in hindsight I think simply the purchase of it must have made me giddy.

Crayons. He’s old enough for crayons.

In all of my enthusiasm for this super-exciting “next step” my son had graduated to, I am certain I purchased the 64-count box.

And we would have talked about the names of each of the colors, compared the light blue with the navy, lined them up in color groupings and counted them one-by-one. Maybe we chose our favorite colors, or talked about how the sun is usually colored yellow but looks white.

I’m pretty sure we could kill an hour or more with a simple 64-count box of crayons.

Because we had time to do that kind of thing back then. Back when time stood still it seemed — or at least on those long no-nap afternoons when Daddy traveled and Mommy was left to dinnertime chatter with someone who only talked about the garbage man. Back when the time it took to simply get out the door to preschool or the grocery store seemed to fill a morning.

The crayons, they multiplied.

Go out to your favorite chain restaurant for dinner? Come home with a tiny box of crayons, named with colors like “mac and cheese.” Crayons make great stocking stuffers, car-trip sanity savers, Easter basket fillers and birthday party favors.

One 64-count box of perfectly shaped crayons soon gives way to several plastic bins full of a jumble of odd colors and sizes that don’t quite go together. Favorites are worn down to nubs, while some never quite feel right and never even touch tip to paper.

This fall I started (again) to organize and rearrange what used to be our playroom and now is more of a game room.

It sounds cooler to teens if you call it that.

One plastic bin full of crayons remains.

Some are worn down, others broken in half and discarded… never to be used. There are multiple brands intermixed, some never used at all.

Like a jumble of things my kids tried. Things that either didn’t fit, felt wrong or left them wanting something more.

I wish that parenting them now was as simple as that brand-new 64-count box of crayons was. That I could once again offer them something that was full of possibilities and open to whatever their heart — and little fingers — could create.

Now? There’s no going back to that original box. I wouldn’t even be able to create a haphazard collection of the original colors from the remnants of childhood remaining in this plastic bin. In some odd way, this box of messed-up crayons has come to symbolize the trials and errors of my parenting. Some things worked beautifully, while others didn’t take.

I just can’t bring myself to throw them out.

You never know when someone might want to color again.

__________________________________________________

This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

 

 

 

The Hardest Gift

I’ve seen her each morning this past week of summer. Little wisp of a girl on her brand-new big girl bicycle, shiny pink helmet guarding her head and a smile that won’t stop.

Freedom. She tastes it — possibly for the very first time. She rides up and down our street each morning, past my kitchen window, too many times to count. Pink and white tassels fly from her handlebars and flap in the wind, making her ride seem just a wee bit faster.

As parents, we want this freedom for our kids. No, really — we DO. We dole it out to them in tiny measures at first. I still remember the first time I walked down the hall, away from my young toddler’s room while he was busy and engaged with his books and toys. I was giving him a little gift — some time alone without my constant chatter or my overwhelming need to note the color of something or the sound of the train whistle in the distance. A bit of space that says I trust you, have fun, make good choices.

I’ll be right here.

What little pushes and cautious bits of freedom we give our little ones — at times, reluctantly — multiply and grow into a cloak they wear as teens. Freedom becomes expected, something they have earned bit by bit that we must never question or try to take back.

And so goes the delicate balance we live when the teens are home — especially those who have lived on their own for a bit. Their freedom is everything to them, and offers of assistance or advice are often pushed aside.

I’m fine.

Yes, mom.

I’ve got this.

I don’t need your help, but thanks.

Freedom.

When the little girl went by this morning, I asked my almost-15-year-old daughter if she remembered learning to ride her bicycle on this very same street. If she remembered the mom-imposed boundaries she was allowed to ride within without supervision. My version of without supervision at the time involved casually walking out to the sidewalk and cautiously squinting down the block to make sure she was still alive, that she hadn’t fallen prey to the dozen or so scenarios I had crafted in my mommy brain and wrapped in a blanket of worry.

She did remember, and we both smiled at the memory of a feisty little 3-year-old whose boundaries were the tree five houses down and the crack in the sidewalk just almost around the corner. The boundaries and edges of our comfort zone stretch and reshape themselves, until we are left with a young adult whose choices and decisions we no longer have much control over.

Exactly what we are intended to do.

But it’s hard. Harder than you can imagine, that first time you give that little pink bicycle a gentle push and she goes sailing away, ponytail flying and wearing a smile bigger than her face.

You will smile too… and in time, these pushes will all pay off.

I watched the little girl ride by again.

And I smiled, and silently cheered for her… and for her mother down the street.

Because she’s earning her freedom…

but her mom had to give it away.

_______________________________________________________________

This piece was originally published on Moonfrye