I had no inkling, the first time I learned I was pregnant, of the combination of awe and regret that motherhood would stitch into my soul. But my firstborn, now 26, has long eclipsed the age I was when I gave birth to him, and I find myself marveling over the realization that I have been a mother for more than half my life.
Lately it seems as if my future is destined to be haunted by reflections, small vignettes from the past — some happy, some not — each determined to wave their hand and be seen. They come out of nowhere — these visions — occupying my mind while I drive, walk, or run. They vacillate between the utter despondence and pure magic that have comprised motherhood for me.
Curled up in the bed where he was born, I watched him, with all my dreams for his future bursting from my heart. Max, with his sock hat on, playing with his tongue and making the tiniest “o” shape with his mouth. I didn’t sleep a wink for fear of missing even the most miniscule change.
My wee hour whisperings were a vow to love, protect, cherish and keep him from harm — all unending devotions bestowed upon my baby in the first hours as his mother.
Who will you be? I am your Mom!
I was mesmerized by the miracle of having birthed a human being. I couldn’t, in that moment, conceive of what would later manifest as the impatience of motherhood.
But, as years unfolded in the day-in and day-out grind that comes with raising children, there were times I felt there was no end in sight to the changing of diapers and redirection of behavior.
Then one day they were gone — the baby, toddler, elementary school ages and stages were behind us, dangling in the air as a tail on a kite, joyous and left to forever dance with the wind.
Last night, when we went out to dinner, my eyes lighted on the chubby-cheeked toothless grin of a blue-eyed baby sitting two tables away. I felt that sting of unsolicited tears threaten to leach. I leaned forward and asked my husband, “Do you ever want to walk up to the parents of young children and whisper in their ear, Don’t just mark time; you will have these babies but for a season of your life. I promise you it passes in a blink of an eye. Do you ever think that?”
He nodded, and his eyes darted to our son before returning to mine. “I can not believe we are looking at colleges for Kodiak…”
I quietly agreed, also sneaking a peek at our son — our boy –on the brink of joining his brother in manhood. He is within arm’s reach of walking out of our home into his next life chapter beyond our daily vigilance.
Kodiak was born at the base of a ski resort in the valley of Vail, Colorado, at an altitude of 8,160 feet above sea level. Unlike the siblings who bookend him, he was in no hurry to make his entrance. When he finally did, his first stroke in the waters of independence were exhibited within moments of his first breath.
All babies born in Vail are immediately given oxygen. We held our own breaths as his little fist unhesitatingly reached up and yanked the tiny oxygen mask from his face. His first unspoken message was effectively delivered: I can breathe on my own!
And, in that moment, we exhaled.
My last baby followed 20 months later. She was in a hurry, practically delivered in a moving vehicle. Chandler.
And now we were thinking of college. The thought – the disappearance of my babies’ childhoods – followed me last night from the restaurant to Chandler’s piano recital, and is now planted like a looming tree.
Did I even feel myself blink?
Regrets dance in the shadows and I see them as if they are lining up — the bleary-eyed, drawn-out good night kisses, the tricks I employed to distract a three-year-old Max when leaving him at preschool. “Show me the classroom bunny,” I had said with enthusiasm so I could hop skip and jump away, leaving a boy with a rabbit in his hands and disappointment stretched across his heart.
Alongside regret, I see myself nestled in bed with each of my children, reading, swimming, blowing bubbles, baking, discovering museums from Denver to San Diego, building sandcastles, creating art projects, spending summers on Whidbey Island.
Last night at the recital, I put my arm around Kodiak and felt my heart quicken as he leaned, for just a moment, into me. I hugged him from the side and marveled at his unabashed love for me.
There is the awe.
I woke early this morning from a dream that was still so vivid. In it, I whispered to the parents of the chubby cheeked baby, Don’t just mark time; you will have your baby but for a season of your life. I promise you it passes in a blink of an eye.
*A modified version of this post was originally published on, Midlife at the Oasis, May 20, 2011