There are no more babies in my home. Or my arms. True, my youngest is an adorable 5-year-old who still likes early morning snuggles, bedtime kisses and read-aloud books, but she isn’t a baby anymore.
Not that I was all that crazy about the baby stage anyway. I struggled with the the lack of sleep, the lack of personal space and the lack of quiet alone time. And I was no stranger to postpartum depression, either.
Even so, when I got an email from a friend this week who recently gave birth to her fourth child, I found myself feeling a little bit of envy. There’s just something about those little toes, the baby aisle at the grocery store, that smell on the top of their heads and the unabashed joy on their faces when you greet them every morning.
And when I had babies, I was young. Young, fertile women have babies. Only older women have teenagers. Women in their ’40s. Women who color their gray hair. Women who should only be seen in the junior section of the department store shopping for their teenager. Sometimes I’m just not so crazy about the idea of me and my children getting older. And older.
What in the world am I talking about? Every one of my children sleeps through the night, eats, dresses and uses the bathroom on their own. I have a built-in babysitter. I can talk and laugh with my older children like I would my friends. They can do housework. I’ve arrived, haven’t I? Isn’t this the stage I’ve been looking forward to for the last 15 years of motherhood?
And yet. And yet! There are challenges here, too. The school schedule, homework and extracurricular activities rule the day. Play dates and friendships are more complicated than they used to be. My influence is no longer exclusive. My husband and I have lost our quiet evenings alone together. Everyone is old enough to need regular discipline. (My least favorite part of mothering.) And no one is exempt from feeling left out or doubting themselves or being scared of something they saw on the news or wondering where they fit in this great big world.
But babies. Babies are emotionally uncomplicated. As long as they are rested, clean and fed, they are happy and mom is satisfied. And babies are synonymous with promise and possibility. They have yet to be unwittingly tainted by their well-intentioned parents or the culture around them. We can still imagine they will become infinitely smart, talented, kind, self-motivated, hard-working, popular, respectful and clean. (Oh, how I had hoped the messes would subside as my children got older!) In reality, most children end up being just about as perfect as their parents. (Which is to say, not at all.)
But isn’t that the fun of it? Watching your children grow into who they are going to be, warts and all? I love to see what new creations my 15-year-old daughter has drawn in her sketchbook, even if her supplies are spread out all over the kitchen counter where I’m trying to make dinner and she is clearly avoiding her instrument practice. And I couldn’t be more proud of my 11-year-old son when I see him being kind to small children or doing his homework without complaint. It stopped mattering to me a long time ago that he will never be a star athlete or a neat freak. My 8-year-old daughter can hardly contain her energy and ideas, and spends most of her free time at home these days wheeling our new puppy around in a doll stroller — while on rollerblades. Yes, she has had more than one accident, and, yes, she is a little bit impulsive and accident prone, but she is also a never-ending source of sunshine.
And then there’s my baby. My big 5-year-old baby. She indulges me because she still wants to be a baby, too. And a mommy. She role plays the mommy/baby relationship with anything that finds its way into her hands or imagination: rocks, utensils, vegetables, imaginary children of her own. (Yesterday was her 2-year-old son’s birthday.) Anything and everything looks like a mommy and a baby to her.
And it reminds me. Someday my babies will grow up and have babies of their own. And that means I will have babies in my home and in my arms again.
So maybe this new stage of motherhood is just as wonderful as the last. And the next. I suspect that every stage of motherhood has its moments of triumph and joy, failure and struggle. It is motherhood after all. We shouldn’t expect anything less.
QUESTION: What stage of motherhood are you in? What do you love about it? What about it feels challenging?
CHALLENGE: When you find yourself feeling discontent in your current stage of motherhood, try to remember that every stage has its joys and its challenges. The trick is to focus on the joy.