I have moved into a new era of parenting. I can see it now, only after finally recognizing that I don’t really have any more ‘little people’ in my house. For so many years that is all we had in our house. Lots and lots of little people, in all stages of development. Our first two were barely a year apart in age but the last two were over four years apart. This guaranteed that we always had a toddler in the mix and most of the time a baby too. You can understand why it didn’t occur to me for quite some time that we had outgrown the little person stage.
I should have noticed when we moved to New York and there was no high chair in the moving van. No diaper bags were packed when the minivan was stuffed to the gills for the cross country trip. When we signed in at the Residence Inn I didn’t ask for a porta crib. You think I would have gotten the hint. But letting go of the babies comes hard to me.
I got my education degree but my bigger dream was to be a mommy. And boy did my dream come true. For years and years I soaked up their smiles and cleaned up their potty messes. It seemed like I would always be wiping noses and tripping over Fisher Price people.
But then suddenly I look around and two of my children are looking me in the eye as they pass through the kitchen, inquiring about dinner. Their brother has moved up three notches on the doorway where we mark their height. That’s just in the past year. And my baby turned nine last fall. That puts him about a half a year away from also having two digits in his age. It’s enough to make a mommy feel old.
Then I read a book I found on the new book shelf at the library called “The Gift of an Ordinary Day” and it touched my soul. Its author, Katrina Kenison, writes so poignantly about raising up children only to let them go. She is living the mommy thing a few years ahead of me and showing me what’s just over my horizon. It’s exciting (for my children) and somewhat terrifying (for me). I feel like I cherish these moments with my children but her book makes me stop and take inventory.
It’s easy to think I am still the mommy of younger children. I have a nine year old in the house. I still attend events at an elementary school. We still put out stockings for Santa. He wants nothing more than to snuggle with mama when he’s not feeling well or stress at school is getting him down. But it’s all so deceiving.
Because if I’m not careful, while I’m busy pampering and babying my littlest guy, the big ones will be taking off on their own trajectories and aiming their sights on things beyond this cozy nest I’ve made for them. It’s right and it’s good. It’s just happening too fast.
So then I find myself at a diner, on a quiet Sunday night, just as a winter sleet storm is hitting our area. The threatening weather outside is of no concern to me because all I can see are the amazing faces that share a table with me. The man who so generously donated half the genetics of my beautiful children, and these four people who have sprouted like dandelions in a perfect Spring.
The occasion (as if it matters) is daughter’s birthday. The actual date was weeks ago but this is the first chance we’ve had to all be together so we swooped in on the opportunity, bravely ignoring the weather man’s warnings.
I feel the need, now more than ever, to capture these people on film, or in this new age of photography, on my memory stick. I want to freeze every expression. Every smile and yes, even every pout. I know, by looking through the boxes and boxes of photos I have of their childhood, that the faces you think you will remember forever get replaced with these new, older versions. If you don’t make the effort to snatch them up, they will evaporate into the wind.
But now that they’re older I can’t freely snap all the shots I want. As I take in the laughing and teasing that circles around our formica table at the diner, I want so badly to pull out a camera and snap away. Freeze that smile. That look of concentration as he studies the menu. The way her face melts when her baby brother says something adorable. And even the sneer he shoots his brother when teasing words go too far.
But it’s not the time or the place. My camera would be disruptive and intrusive. And not fair to the moment, which needs to play out in its own time. I will have to trust my tired old brain to remember these snapshots in a different way. I will remember them as snippets of moments instead of frozen facial expressions.
Maybe it’s better that way. When the camera is put away they don’t know I am pondering their expressions and memorizing their gestures. They don’t know that I dread the day they will leave home as much as they look forward to it. They don’t know my deepest desire is to lock them in their rooms so they can never, ever leave me.
They tell their stories and share their jokes. They tease each other and swipe French fries off their siblings plate.
And they think I’m doing what moms do the best and do the most - silently checking fingernails for dirt as hands gesture wildly in the telling of a story and making sure everyone has a napkin in their lap.
What they don’t know won’t hurt them. And I am sure, positive even, that it will definitely help me.