Dawn had only just begun to creep in when my alarm sounded it's cautionary tone, signaling my brain to drag me out of slumber. As soon as I rolled to sit up, the small, warm body next to me began to stir, realizing my body had moved out of snuggling range. I got out of bed with the usual creaks and cracks in my bones and prepared to scoop up my still drowsy bundle of sweet dreams who had scooted over to the edge of the bed to meet my arms. This is how we have woken up every morning since she was eighteen months old.
This morning, though, everything I ever knew about mothering changed. Changed instantly in a blink, as I tried to rub the sleep crusties out of my eyes, so I could see clearly. As I began to reach down and scoop my not-so-baby-anymore baby girl into my arms so she wouldn't have to coordinate her movement to walk, fresh out of her sleep, she leans in close and groggily whispers in my ear, “I gotta walk! 'Member, the doctor said pickin' me up gives you boo-boo cuz I too big now. It’s okay. I'll be okay, momma.” As though her voice had awakened my nerve pathways at the sound of it, the sharp, stabbing, searing agony which sent me to the ER the day before, resumed its awful spasming. This miserable pain in my upper stomach was all it took to put an end to picking up any of my babies…forever.
It was in this defining moment, which I realized life had finally brought the Baby Years phase to an end for this unsuspecting mother. Closed and locked all the doors and, then, kicked all the heavy furniture in front of them, life did- barricading against those days of diaper changing, sippy cup filling, pick-up-me's, and holding a little one still able to fit in my arms with ease, never to return again. My babies were no longer babies, the thread I had been clinging on to with desperation, severed with the half-asleep prattle of my almost four-year old daughter; my last born. My babies are all children now, after all. School-aged children. Not one of them can be carried in my arms without severely damaging my body, anymore. I have the painfully torn abdominal muscles to prove it.
The actuality of this closing chapter in my life is utterly and completely bittersweet, for me. Motherhood had always been a picture of babies filling my home with sweet coos, happy screeches, tears from bumps and booboos, and tiny hands causing mischief wherever they find themselves. Motherhood was balancing nap time between grocery shopping and errand running, wiping butts clean, and putting shoes on little feets which never stop kicking. Making it through bathtime without getting shampoo in the kids' eyes, bedtime without tears over the dark, and, dinnertime without dunking chicken in our juice or wearing our bowl of spaghetti as a hat. It was holding tiny hands in my seemingly giant one to cross the street, pushing strollers laden with diaper bags containing half the household, along with the kitchen sink, and picking up toys dumped on the floor because someone wanted to sit in the toy box, instead. I was needed. I was loved. I was used for all the things my babies couldn't do for themselves, just yet. As long as she needed me to carry her around at times, I could still say I had a baby in the house. It was the only way of mothering I ever knew.
I wasn’t ready to be a mom of older children, just yet. To let go of the baby smells, the snuggles, and the closeness of them in my arms. School-aged children are too independent and self-sufficient to fill my, deep down, need to be needed. And they are way too big to fit easily and securely in my arms, anymore. The load of carrying my child's weight was a physical reminder of the responsibility I had been granted, to raise my children to be kind-hearted, successful, secure adults one day, and, just like that, it is over with. Time has come and passed. I'm left to ponder my place in their lives and how to fulfill my own, selfish, desires to keep them little and hidden under my wings, forever. My idea of motherhood had always been centered around babies and the idea of having older children to handle scares me, and, makes me feel as though I'm in a whole different world now.
As my daughter and I hold each other's hand, creeping down the stairs carefully together to greet the brand new day awaiting us, it dawns on me: This is, also, the beginning of the next phase of my journey through motherhood. There is a whole new world of parenting for me to discover and a different way to be needed lies just ahead on my horizon. I remember how lost and confused I was about motherhood on the day I brought my eldest home from the hospital; reminiscing how I selfishly missed the feeling I had of a purpose greater than that of, even, God, as I grew a tiny human inside of me with my very own body from one microscopic, miniscule cell implanted in my uterus. How far I have come since that long ago day, eleven years past! A time where I also didn't know what my purpose as Mother was supposed to be like, either. Looking at where I am now- mourning the babies who have grown into children- actually helps to comfort me, strangely, because I remember when there was a day I didn't think I was ready to take on my role as Mother to my newborn babies and still fulfill the needs of my own self, too. I've completed that challenge!
When we get down stairs to the couch, I cuddle up next to my newest big girl for a moment, while everything is still quiet and dark, and whisper into her ear: “It is okay, love. We will be okay. Momma will always be by your side to catch you if you stumble and fall, because you'll never walk through life without me. My hand will always be there for you to hold. I love you and you'll forever be my baby girl. No matter how big you grown.”