Without even realizing it was happening, we left behind the Baby Stage and set off for uncharted territory. All my kids are big now.
When you’re in those baby years, it’s so all-encompassing it’s impossible to imagine life any other way. Your entire day is spent doing something for someone else: dressing them, feeding them, cleaning them, entertaining them. Buckling car seats, tying shoes, cutting up food, all for someone that is not you.
You become so used to living with the expectation of getting puked on and wiping butts and sleeping with a small foot in your rib cage that it’s second nature. Then when it ends, it’s so gradual you don’t even realize it’s happening.
And suddenly you’re out of it and you look around at these giant children in your house and wonder where your babies went.
I sleep through the night now, and have for months. This may not be a shock for mothers whose children slept through the night at six weeks old, but it is for me. None of my kids were good sleepers. I spent more than ten years waking up at least once a night every night, and at least half those years I woke up multiple times a night every night. It wasn’t until we moved here actually, that Quinn stopped waking us up every night when he got up to use the bathroom.
At some point in September, as Matt and I were climbing into bed, I suddenly realized that it had been weeks since anyone had woken us in the middle of the night. It happened without me ever realizing it. (I’m not mourning the passing of that phase, though. I like my sleep.)
I miss those baby years, when my children needed me so much and my days were filled with noise and movement and messes and chubby baby legs and belly laughs and stumbling first steps. I also remember with absolute clarity the bone-deep exhaustion, frustration, sacrifice. I loved every minute of it, but it was hard.
Now I’m surrounded by children whose needs are very different: help with chemistry homework, for example.
Last night, Gabe “helped” me cook dinner, and in reality he did almost all of it with just instruction from me. Owen and Quinn set the table, properly. B babysits now when Matt and I have to go out for a short time. She babysits.
Suddenly, I have time that is my own. All four of my children are in school for seven or so hours a day. My hands are not always moving in service of someone else. I answer to no one during those seven hours a day, but I don’t always know what to do with myself. It’s a freedom I have become so unaccustomed to that I have to re-train myself. Slowly, I am getting used to the idea that I can schedule a hair cut, sit at a coffee shop, work or write or read without having to find something to keep a child busy while I do those things.
Make no mistake, though, my work is not done. I’ve just moved in to a new phase, one that is less physically demanding but more mentally so. How much freedom is enough, and how much is too much? What should I be doing for them and what should they be doing for themselves? Are they hanging out with nice kids? Are they making good choices when I’m not there?
I have years of parenting ahead of me that I know will be hard — maybe even harder than the years I’ve left behind. But right now, looking around at where we’ve been and where we are, I am confident about where we’re going. I don’t wish I could go back; I love who my children have become and I can’t wait to see who they’ll be in a few years.
But I do miss those chubby baby thighs.