I remember well the feeling of going from being a twosome -- a married couple without a child -- to a threesome -- new parents with a baby. The leap was tremendous. My husband and I might as well have jumped over the Grand Canyon. Life was that different for us. We had no idea that a six-pound, six-ounce baby girl would take up so much space in our home, our marriage and our hearts.
We were living in a one-bedroom apartment and filled every corner with baby gear -- toys, books, car seat, playpen, swing, changing table, crib and stroller. It seemed like plastic was taking over every thing, but as I look back, I see that it wasn't plastic, it was loving a child that changed our lives.
And then, because it was delicious to kiss a baby's belly, we had more children -- two boys.
Eighteen years later, we took our second child to college. A few weeks have passed, and the dog is still sulking under the coffee table. Our dishwasher isn't full every night. I have a surplus of bananas that are over-ripe on the kitchen counter, and I still wake every morning with an ache in my heart.
My first go around at being a threesome was tender and definitely crowded. This time, being a threesome is spacious.
It's not that the empty bedroom feels empty, because it isn't. Our youngest, now age 15, claimed his brother's room as his homework space. He's found his own way to fill the empty gap; he's sitting in it.
But the three of us look lost as we wander around the house; the rhythm is thrown off. The front door doesn't open and close as much. The same is true for the refrigerator. But there are other pockets of missing and quiet.
Something changed in the 20-plus years that I've been a mom. Something dramatic happened. Somewhere along the way, I stretched. And it wasn't just my belly. It's true that I got used to eating discarded food on a highchair tray. I got used to not sleeping through the night -- whether it was waking to feed a baby or listening for a teenager to arrive home. I also got used to rising early. First, it was nursing, and then it was making breakfast before school while putting together lunches and snacks. Later, it was driving to early morning workouts and band practice.
I also got used to the physical side of being a mom -- holding a child on my lap while reading or tying shoes, wetting down bead head or French braiding hair quickly before the school bus came. As the years progressed, I'd still hug my teenagers in the morning on their way out the door, mostly because they weren't awake enough to object.
Years ago, a hummingbird built her nest in a vine that wrapped around a column on our porch. About a month later, I saw two tiny hummingbird beaks poking out of the nest. I watched the mother feed the babies. All day she was back and forth to the nest with food for them. I watched the hummingbirds get bigger. Soon, they stretched their wings, flapping, and I knew what was coming. One day, the nest was empty. I looked out into our yard and saw little ones dashing between flowers, zipping high and low.
It was exciting and inspiring to see them fly. I keep telling myself that. I wasn't watching the empty nest. I was looking at the little humming birds darting all over our yard flying from flower to tree.
"I'm flying! I'm flying! I'm flying!" I could almost hear them say.
I'm working hard right now to marvel at life, at kids getting bigger and going away, at the beautiful and normal process of things changing. It was easy to be in a state of wonder when I was watching the mother hummingbird returning again and again to mouth-feed her babies regurgitated worms.
Can I offer myself the same admiration? Can I marvel at the dedication, the continuous return to love and trying to be a better person that motherhood has asked of me?
I want to trust that I've done enough, said enough, worried enough and mothered enough. Some children kick hard coming into this world and then again when they're going out the door. Others have a quieter entrance and exit. Regardless of the noise, it's still hard for me to say, "Go! Fly!"
And then it occurred to me, that what changed was my heart. My heart stretched. It stretched to love in new ways and hard ways. It also stretched taking in the sweetness of life, and part of the sweetness right now comes from a child asking me to let go.
It's sad and beautiful and empty and full all in one moment. I want to soak it in. Life can be so busy as a mom that you crawl into bed at night thankful to have made it through bath time and bedtime stories or helping with a chemistry lab or a poetry essay. But now I have reflection time, and I appreciate better what it takes to be a mom as well as what it gives.
I believe there is no experience as transformative as being a mother. I also know that being a mother with kindness and love is a daily practice. It takes work, a lot of work, the kind of work where one is willing to keep learning and to forgive, especially oneself. But as I reflect on the accumulation of small moments of tenderness and kindness, I can see that being a mother is also a form of creating a gift and a prayer for the future.
When I ask myself, "What is the best gift I can give the future?" I have one answer: a child who is loved.
And with this thought, this offering, I say, "Go! Fly!"
Kathleen Buckstaff is the author of The Tiffany Box, a memoir about becoming a mom to her children and then to her own mother. The story is told using only emails, letters, diary entries and columns. To read more about The Tiffany Box, please visit http://www.amazon.com/The-Tiffany-Box-Kathleen-Buckstaff/dp/0988764202
This column originally appeared in Kathleen Buckstaff's blog.