"Firsts" Only Come Along Once, Enjoy Them
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, Zoe, I was completely preoccupied with "firsts"-- the first contraction, the first nursing session, the first smile? This obsession with milestones continued unabated throughout the first few years, as I willed her babbling to turn into words, the words to flow into sentences, the sentences to become coherent paragraphs.
I eagerly flipped through child development books, taking the "ages and stages" sections oh so seriously: She's not walking yet; what am I doing wrong?! Ah, ha, she's already talking; what a brilliant child! And while I concentrated on introducing solids and encouraging the first steps, I missed the nuances of real development.
I missed much of the wild dance of living with a young baby, the unbridled joy of the toddler stage, the growing sophistication of the preschooler. I was reminded a thousand times to enjoy these years -- "Your baby will grow up all too quickly." I remained unimpressed by such prophecies; my baby was taking forever to grow up!
Agonizing over "lasts"
Now I have given birth to my third daughter, Ruby Grace, and my enchantment with "firsts" has evolved into a terror of "lasts." After the initial shock and ecstasy of giving birth, I sat in my peaceful hospital bed, listened to the cicadas celebrating spring after months of gray skies, and could not hold back my tears. I would probably never give birth again, and this realization only added to my hormone-induced sorrow!
I kissed Ruby 's head, drowning in the sweetness of her scent, and realized that if I didn't relish all of this right now, I would never have another chance. When my youngest daughter smiled for the first time, there was no relief that we could check another item off in the baby book; this time, there was a smile that glowed with such innocent radiance that I couldn't tear myself away long enough to record the achievement.
With this baby, I am not as quick to grab a camera as I am to revel in these moments of joyful accomplishment. My baby has me mesmerized, entranced. I have belatedly learned that her triumphs are not a reflection of my dazzling parenting skills; they are gentle reminders that she is, in her own way, developing the ability to flourish away from the constant attentions of her mother.
So, for me, striking a balance has changed meaning lately-- rather than trying to successfully balance work and family, I am trying to balance my delight in witnessing my daughters' milestones with my regret that my babies are surpassing their infancy.
Learning to navigate
Last year, Zoe graduated from kindergarten. She and I , the "big girls" in our family, spent an afternoon shopping for a special dress for her to wear during the ceremony. As we stood together in the dressing room, as I pulled her dress over her head, I listened to her chatter on about her excitement at choosing her own dress and her fears that she would forget to take her diploma when they called her name.
I realized that such moments, while they may not be delegated a page in the baby books, are more meaningful and more easily overlooked than when the first molar comes in. Teeth, smiles, steps-- these are exciting because they show us that our babies are real people who can mimic our physical behavior.
The adrenaline-pumped small talk of my graduate-to-be was exciting for a completely different reason-- while Zoe told me her stories of happiness and anxiety, she was speaking as someone who is no longer mimicking the world around her, but as someone who is learning to navigate that world on her own terms.
Milestones of a different kind
Zoe is no longer my baby, but these milestones remain important -- only now, I have to open my eyes wider in order to see them. I am naturally drawn to the world of "grown ups", of long talks over coffee and jokes that are not easily translated to toddlers. While it is almost impossible not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the newborn stage, the subtler patterns of the later years often fly by me unnoticed.
Now, the arrival of Ruby has prompted me to reevaluate my mothering skills -- it is not enough to breastfeed and caress my infant. Even though the smell of a newborn's neck is the stuff that cliches are made of. (And, admittedly, for good reason!)
The messy-haired merriment of my preschooler, Emma, is equally satisfying, as is the sweet-natured company of my now-seven-year-old. As this summer begins to fade into autumn, my plan is to spend these last warm days running through the grass alongside my free-spirited girls, and to savor every fleeting stage of their childhood.