I am one of those mothers who stills sees my 3 year old son as "my baby". To me, he is still little. I am one of those mothers who did "attachment parenting"- breastfeeding, holding and comforting him when he cries instead of trying to "toughen him up", I am almost NEVER away from him (in fact, he is going with me and my husband on a marriage retreat next month even though it was recommended that we get a sitter because I just can't bear the thought of parting from him that long), and he slept in our bed with us for his first year, and still does sometimes now. I carried him everywhere when he was an infant, and refused to let him "cry it out". People would tell me to let him grow up, but I cherished those baby moments. Due to the fact that there is a ten year age gap between him and my next youngest child, I am very aware that the baby stage passes all too quickly, and I wanted to hang onto every moment that I could. And I still do.
This past weekend, he went with his dad to an indoor water park for the day. He was fearless, going down huge water slides by himself, jumping into the pool with no hesitation. My husband talked about how big he seemed at the waterpark, but I had stayed home to do homework for school. I blew it off- surely he couldn't have grown THAT much since the last time we had him at the pool a few weeks ago. I know he's getting bigger, but he is still a baby. He is fighting for independence, yet he is still dependent on his mommy and daddy. He still wants good night kisses, he still wants to be held and cuddled, he still wants to mommy to kiss his boo-boos. He's not past the baby phase- I was sure of it. My husband sees him as a little boy because he is raising him to be a man. But he will always be a baby to his mommy.
Then I took him to the pool yesterday. He normally jumps off of the edge of the pool into my arms in the water. But yesterday, he didn't. In fact, when I put my arms out to catch him, he walked away from me and cannonballed in by himself. It was such a bittersweet moment. I was so proud of my son and the little boy he is becoming, yet I was mourning the loss of my baby. What is an exciting new stage for him, is a stage of letting go for me. My mind raced with thoughts- the last time he jumped into my arms in the pool, I took it for granted. I didn't realize it was the last time. I was sure there would be more times, that he would stay in that phase of needing me to calm his fears awhile longer. He would need me to catch I'm a little longer. If I had known that it would have been the last time, I would have cherished it more.
I thought of all of the "last times" I have already gone through with him. The last time he breastfed. The last time he crawled. The last time I had him strapped into a baby carrier on my body. The last time he had is amazingly striking troll hair that stuck straight up for his head from the time he was born until he was about 7 months old. The last time I carried him in a baby carrier car seat. The last time I gave him a bottle. The last time he innocently looked up at me and gave me a baby coo. So many last times, so many cherished memories. I didn't realize those were a last time either, until they were gone. I am so glad that we took the advice of so many who told us to take tons of pictures while he was a baby. We have close to 20,000 pictures of him in his first three years. We have a way to remember some of the last times- or at least some of the stages. But you never really realize it's the last time until it's too late. Until there's a new "first time."
I realize that there will be more "last times", and now I am more prepared. I am cherishing every moment with my little boy. God has blessed us so tremendously with the ability to be parents the right way a second time, after failing our first set of kids. We have been given a tremendous gift to experience all of these first and last times with our little boy. I realize that each one of these days, each one of these last times, is a gift. A gift that you can't get back once it's gone. My husband and I were talking the other day about how he is 1/6 the way to being an adult already. 1/6 of his life has passed, and eventually he will be 18 and out of our home, and I will miss all of the noise, all of the chaos, all of the toys on the floor, all of the hanging on my legs and not being able to go to the bathroom by myself without him following me in there. And once that happens, I will miss it. As hard as it can be to be a parent from day to day, once that time with your child is gone, it is forever mourned. I remember when the infant stage felt like it would never end. The nights of no sleep, constant breastfeeding, and dealing with crying seemed endless. Yet now that they are gone, I miss them so much. I vow to start taking life slower to enjoy these times with my little guy, before they are gone for good. Cleaning the house and getting straight A's on every paper can wait. This time is precious like no other, and there is no "redo" button. I vow to cherish each stage that he is in, regardless of the trials and struggles- because one day it will be over, and I will miss it. I vow to thank God for this little man in every moment, even when he is testing my patients and I feel like I no longer have an identity as an individual person- but only as Justin's mommy.
Because "Justin's mommy" is absolutely the greatest title I could ever have. Lest I forget it when I lose my patients, I will think about all of his "last times," and how this stage that seems like it will never end one day will, and I will miss it. I vow that I will be more prepared for the next "last time"- as much as a parent can possibly be prepared for it- and I vow to be thankful for all of the "first times."