Every time I see a baby these days, I can't help thinking of my own.
They both have their father's gorgeous blue eyes and my light, light skin. The boy, our firstborn, is serious, calm, thoughtful and fully engaged, analyzing everything he sees. The girl, our youngest, is high-energy, excitable and somehow appealingly self-centered. They are, respectively, not unlike their father and me.
Except that they are so much more. I see him challenging himself, always, to learn more, try more, do more; his self-motivation drives him toward independence even as he spontaneously stops for a hug. And I see her arranging her world in a way that will be comfortable, a way that is compatible with her need for order and happy endings; her sense of self is a constant source of amazement -- envy, sometimes -- to me as her mother.
That is what I saw when they were born, 15 and 13 years ago, and I still see it today... although now I have to tip my head back to look up at the boy, and the girl and I can share clothes. They've been changing before my eyes, but my eyes are sometimes too close to them to notice.
The changes our kids go through -- those life-altering, memory-distorting phases of life -- are so subtle as to be imperceptible to those of us in their immediate orbit... until one day you see a newborn, or a toddler, or a kindergartner and you stop and think, wait a minute. Where did that go? I wasn't ready for that part to be over! Please! One more day! One more minute! One more second!
But in the end, it's one more memory.
And I'm finding that as time marches on, the memories become fuzzier, until they become one-dimensional photographs in my head. The images are being stored further and further from retrieval, probably to make room for the myriad other memories being made every day. The one constant about children, ironically, is change.
When they were first born, for example, we formed a mutual adoration society; I was completely focused on them, and they on me. They could feel every ounce of the love I was sending, and I could feel theirs, because we were always together. We felt it through constant contact; it seemed in those early years that there was always a baby in my arms, on my hip or clinging to my leg.
That kind of one-on-one time is much more elusive these days; just last week I was secretly thrilled -- ecstatic! -- to be accompanied to the grocery store by my son. And there are times I could swear my daughter, Miss Independence, pretends she's not feeling well just so she can feel justified in letting me pamper her a little. And I am thrilled to do so.
Our children's journey to adulthood is like childbirth, in a way; you don't forget the idea of the pain, but you do forget, to an extent, the actual, physical pain. It fades with time. That's how baby memories are. We will never forget the idea of our babies - each phase, each stage - but the exactness of their being in those phases will fade. The feel of their skin; the sound of their giggle; the smell of their poopy diapers ... God help me, I even miss that, because it was an intrinsic part of their beings, the ones that came out of me and have been slowly but surely stepping away ever since.
We have to let those memories fade, or we would forever be nostalgic for the babies that our children once were -- which would cause us to miss their growing up. And we don't want to miss that, because each new phase is just as special, just as momentous as the last. Each first now -- first date, first car, first job -- will be just as memorable as their first tooth, first step, or first word. Because the truth is, whether they're newborn, heading to kindergarten, conquering high school, leaving home or having kids of their own, one thing will never change: Our children will always be our babies.