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.