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Visions of Babies

More longing for days gone by.

When many of us moms (and dads, I suppose) first became conscious of wanting to have children and become parents, we often had very concrete images in our minds.  We still return to those images even as the years pass.

For some, these images are focused on playing a game of catch or kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard. For others, it’s about the inviolable bonds of unconditional love that flow from parent to child and from child to parent. Some look forward to guiding their children through new experiences, including travel to enriching and/or exciting places. For many of us, it’s about sharing the best aspects of our own childhood (places we loved to visit, books that changed our lives, etc.) and sheltering our kids from the worst that we were dealt, understanding though that “into each life a little rain must fall.”

For me, the desire to start a family was based on images of tenderly caring for an infant or small child. In this way, and in the early years, parenting did not disappoint. Taking care of babies was something that came naturally to me.  From a young age, I was drawn toward infants.

With my own wee ones, I derived real and intense pleasure from all of the nurturing that is involved. Holding, bathing, clothing, feeding, comforting – these activities served as a worthy alternative to sleep for many years. This was the stuff that fed my soul.

I remember well that amazing feeling of approaching a crib while the still-sleepy baby, nestled in blankets, slowly awakened and became aware of my presence standing there. Or the toddler that took a tumble and sought refuge in Mommy’s arms for solace and care. I recall fondly the lifting of a warm, clean, and happy baby out of a soapy tub, wrapping him/her in a fluffy towel, and then in jammies, followed by stories, songs, and pre-bed cuddling.

This isn’t to say that parenting in the early days was easy or effortless. On the contrary, it is often relentlessly daunting to care for little ones. Let’s face it:  these “wee ones” are usually needy, demanding, solipsistic, and language challenged. At least in the first year or two. Or three.

But here’s the thing about those days. I never yelled back then. Not ever, not once. My little ones did not intentionally provoke my wrath, or each other’s, for that matter. My kids were verbal, yet no one talked back. In certain ways, it actually demanded less of me as a parent. 

My youngest is about to turn nine, the eldest 14, and there’s one in the middle, and I find myself missing those early days. It’s not that there’s no joy in parenting anymore. There’s plenty of the good stuff; it’s just ... different. The source of the good stuff no longer consists of that day-to-day caretaking that I so deeply relish.

Someone once said there’s a reason nature starts us off with babies, not teens. I know many parents, who like me, got into this business for the love of all things baby.

But there are just as many who breathed a palpable sigh of relief when the highchair, bassinette, stroller, diapers, and sippy cups went away. I’ve heard those parents say they couldn’t wait for the “custodial” phase to be over and for the real engagement with their children to begin. I understand this perspective.  I just don’t happen to share it. Not today anyway.

My mother, by the way, loved the phase of parenting I am currently in.  She called it “The Three Ds”: no one in diapers, but no one yet driving or dating.  These are the best years of parenting, she said, before the real worrying starts.

As for us baby-lovers, didn’t we realize that, if we were fortunate, those little bundles of drooling, stubby-fingered joy would one day grow up and become independent? And isn’t that the goal, after all: to guide them safely into adulthood? Indeed. This is how it should be, this is the natural course of things.

So what are these surprising feelings that have me looking backward even as “my babies” are crossing the threshold into the teen years? Because for me, there is still the old longing. I never expected to still be pining to be the mother of little ones. To once again hold, comfort, nurture.

These days when my kids are sad, disappointed, angry, or frustrated, I’m often not capable of making an immediate impact. I can listen, support, advise, offer a hug. But Mommy’s kisses will no longer make it all better.

Oh well. There’s always other people’s babies, to borrow for a little while.

gail erdos January 25, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Said so well. As your kids enter the 3 D stage (the driving and dating part) I look forward to your feelings about that. Dfferent from where yiu are now, and just that much closer to babies again, as a grandparent! That aeems like the best of both worlds. Don't worry, it hopefully won't happen during the 3D phase. Keep up the freat writing!!
gail erdos January 25, 2012 at 03:34 AM
"great" writing
Linda Oates January 27, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Lisa, Nice, very nice. I remember what you have described (what parent wouldn't?) and it was lovely at its time. With some luck, although your childrens' ages will change, you will get a sudden hug and kiss and a validation from your over-21-yr. olds. The kids will grow up, move far away for something like the Peace Corps or study or life on another continent but thank goodness for e-mail and skype and cheapie long-distance phone deals. And then they show up and you realize you've done your job well. And it all reflects back on the early years and years through high school. Sometimes there are tough times (I think all adolescents are invaded by aliens at age 13 but then the aliens begin to depart after they reach 21). This was nice to read. Thank you. Linda Oates
Robin Cushman Phillips February 01, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Always well said, Lisa. Parenting older children (particularly the teens who act like they don't like us very much) is a huge challenge. It requires that we put aside our ego and hear their pain. That said, I have taken to frequently pointing out that my daughter is "hurtful" in her demeanor as she answers my non threatening questions. Humor is such an important tool! I have often said that I would give most anything to have 24 hours of baby time with my children again.
Joanna Dunn March 25, 2012 at 09:01 AM
Lisa, Thought about your article when I held a friend's newborn the other day. What is it about those long tiny fingers and little wise expressions?! Such a wonder to behold. You really captured the physicality of holding, comforting, and nurturing a baby. And also how a mom has to go through stages of evolution as her child's needs change.

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