I love babies. Love them. Love holding and nuzzling them, love degrading myself in any manner necessary to elicit their smiles. I love their coos and bleats, their purrs and whinnies. I love the urgency of their hunger cries and their dramatic tongue undulations and lip quivers when the milk doesn't come quickly enough; as if they will literally perish if you withhold the goods for one second more. I love watching them learn and study the world, and I love feeling them burrow into my chest and arms when sleep is a foregone conclusion.
Babies warm me from the inside out. They are so simply complex: meet their elemental needs, and you are rewarded with a front-row seat at an incredible cabaret. In that promise, though, lies enormous responsibility and commitment. A bargain that I happily made -- twice! -- but do not wish to make again. A contract I was lucky to have a say in and one I have never been so gratefully sure to have left behind as I am now.
Recently, my sister and her husband brought their newborn son, Paul, to visit. He is a delightful baby with whom I am besotted. My sister and her husband are wonderful parents, and it's a joy to watch them in that role. It's obvious that parenthood came to them at the right time. They'd lived life, settled oats, established themselves and then welcomed, with open arms, all the changes and challenges a baby brings.
On their second night here, after we'd enjoyed a marvelous meal and were all tucked in our respective beds, my husband, Tom, turned to me with concern in his eyes and asked, "Is this making you want a third child?"
"Heavens to Betsy, NO!" I nearly shouted back, and with an assured immediacy that surprised even me.
The day before they left, my sister and brother-in-law picked my sons up from school while I stayed with Paul. After hosting a steady stream of baby visitors and helping with Paul when his nightly colic struck, I was beat. Just before heading out, my sister put the baby on a play mat in front of the chair on which I perched. I'm certain he would have been content staying there and doing his own thing. But, I want to know him. I want him to know me. He is my nephew, and were anything ever to happen to my sister and her husband, I would raise their boy as my own.
So, I got down on the floor next to him and sang a ridiculous song. He beamed and flirted, and I did all manner of idiotic behavior to keep the smiles coming. We locked eyes, and lost in the depths of his, I felt again the fierce love and commitment inherent in the responsibility of caring for a dependent child. I remembered all the minutes, hours, days spent on the floor with my boys. In the library, playroom and mommy-and-me groups. I remembered the walks and the sleepless nights and the nursing and the boundless love. I felt so happy and lucky to be a mother, but also sure that my well was not bottomless.
Paul cooed again, bringing me back into the present, and I knew, with utter certitude, that I did not, do not, have one more round of mothering in me.
I treasured my time with my nephew, but I also felt an odd sort of relief when he left. Relief that my days of endlessly tending a pre-verbal, immobile, eat-and-poop factory are behind me. Caring for newborns is like being sucked through a weird time machine. Whole days pass, and you haven't the slightest idea how you spent them. And you're cool with it. Until you're not. At least, I was, until I wasn't.
For me, "wasn't" came about the time my youngest turned 2. One night I declared that if I didn't have some time of my own to dedicate to something of my own, I simply might burst. I started a blog, and repeatedly, sometimes daily, since, have felt tremendous gratitude for that space. It is endlessly restorative and educational. It has enabled me to document the miles I've traveled since its inception as well as all I've learned about myself on that journey.
My children ushered me into my blog, into writing my way through our world. Writing helps me process the ways in which being a mother exceeds and falls short of the expectations I had of it. It helps me vent and learn and better understand myself and my experiences in the weeds of Mom. I am a better mother because of writing, just as I am a better writer and person because I am a mother. A mother of two.
What's left is for me. For my marriage and my life and all that lies ahead.
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