It may be 3 a.m. but I just can't take my eyes off of you.
You bury your face into my body. I hear the soft snore swathed in baby's breath return to your restless frame. I could get up now and put you back into your crib. I could do this pretty easily, and sneak back into my warm side of the bed–which I really want to do. And yet, I linger. I pause. I run my fingers over the crest of your ears. I bend down in an awkward crane and kiss the top of your head. I memorize the rise and fall of your chest, the way your eyelashes sit snugly against the softest parts of your face.
I do this because it is almost over. I feel the weary in my heels from the countless hours I've spent standing at the edge of a crib. Swaying and stepping, lifting and setting down; doing the dance only an exhausted young mother knows. This time, the third time, I know the steps. I've found my rhythm, I know where to pause for the joy and to quickly release the disappointment. I am not an expert, I am just trained. I have earned my stripes, one blurry eyed day at at time.
But now, just like the clouds that are snaking in between the tall evergreen trees in my yard, the morning is burning off and the fog is lifting. I can see the way: the way out of infant hood.
And isn't it just like life to get to the part where you finally appreciate what you have only to watch it run through your fingers?
I am not sad that the baby years are coming to a close; that my 8-month old has partially weaned himself from nursing or is standing in place, or is sleeping just a little bit better and needing me just a little bit less. I am not sad that I spent a lot of my emotional currency belaboring the labor of love that really is the roughest stuff. It has also been the most transforming stuff. I've spent over two-thousand days on this rollercoaster, so I know without a doubt that it is and was hard–and I am not saying that is wasn't or that it won't be again.
It just will be a different type of try. A different type of get-by that isn't hinged on survival.
And this graduating as a mom is all a part of the pass through. A part of the oldest joke in the book; you know the one about the chicken crossing the road just to get to the other side. You see, if I paused right here–with my third-born's gummy smiles and his adorable giggle I would miss it. I would miss the crossing over; the passage way that we all take to get to the other side of our selves. To get to the place we are being led, the forward progress that is only relevant to the human race and no other type of species.
My children are the closest and most concentrated way I can be a character witness to God at work. To see his newest creations gather scars and skeletons and golden fruit and bejeweled crowns. It isn't the easy way; there is no easy way.
It is the way of a mom. The unavoidable heartsickness that tears out our singular desires and replaces them with desires for another. These aches run so deep even the darkest oceans can't rise to it. This is the love of God. He carved this cavern into our hearts; breaking apart the drylands with a violent river. And this ocean that tosses us in a thousand directions is also the only body of salt water that can quench the deep that calls from within us to the deep above us.
It stings more than it is sad. That's the better way to describe it.
It stings your eyes; like the onset of a good cry.
It stings your heart like a bee sting; swelling into something that burns and bruises and then, subsides.
It stings like a quick brush of a thicket's stinging nettles. But it can be soothed.
As a kid, someone once told me if you held your breath and ran through singing nettles, you couldn't be stung. I can't say for sure as an adult if this is true or not, but I swear as a little girl I did this over and over and it worked. I never got stung: when I remembered to hold my breath.
So there is an antidote to this motherhood sting: holding your breath. Taking the moments in. Stamping them on the inside of your brain, with a fiery branding iron. Searing the sad and the happy and the sting and the subsiding into the recesses of your being. Not to dwell, but to deliver yourself a package that you can always open.
And there will be days coming, where I will want to sit down with this phantom package and tear open the paper and carefully inspect every baby shoe I kept, every picture that captured the mundane, every blanket that used to cover their tiny bodies. The day that my son's heart gets broken for the first time. The day my daughter forgets who she is and tells a really big lie. The day my youngest doesn't feel like he belongs.
On those days, when my heart is no longer the only one that is stung, these branded memories will be a salve. A cold, cooling space for all of us to remember the beauty of small beginnings.
We're in this together,