When my daughter, Angela, was an infant, I spent innumerable hours pinned to the couch, either breastfeeding her or holding her while she napped. I felt like a prisoner to her schedule, a captive in my own living room.
She weaned herself just after her first birthday and I expected to feel relieved. Finally, I thought, I can do something else with all those extra minutes of the day. Fold the laundry. Read a book. Go for a walk.
But instead, I felt sad, partly because of my body's hormonal changes, but mostly because I no longer felt needed in quite the same way. The quiet moments that Angela and I had on the couch, skin to skin and heart to heart, were behind us -- and when they were over, I missed them more than I thought I would.
The night my daughter stopped nursing, I had a dream. In it, she and I were playing on a blanket on the floor when she suddenly turned into a butterfly and fluttered away.
"Wait!" I yelled to her. "I'm not done with you yet. Come back!"
But she was gone.
Later on, when Angela was 2 years old, my marriage to her father ended. She was no longer nursing, but she was still napping every afternoon after lunch. Some days, I lay next to her in bed in our new apartment, wondering when the sorrow of divorce would stop. I wondered whether we would survive.
Those days are behind us, too. Now Angela is 5 years old and our lives are challenging in different ways. She talks from the moment she wakes up in the morning until the second she falls asleep at night, and she has tantrums about things like uncomfortable shoes and socks that tickle her toes.
Sometimes I yell too much and listen too little. There are mornings when I have to sit on her just to get her dressed for school, and there are nights when I get home from my own classes to find that the babysitter has already tucked her into bed. So I tiptoe into her bedroom and kiss her forehead as she sleeps.
I never thought I would say this, but I would give anything for one more of those infant days, to feel her soft skin and hold her delicate body as she snoozes in my lap.
I would love to be trapped on the couch with her -- with nothing to do but admire the curve of her eyelashes and the slope of her nose.
As crazy as it sounds, I would even relive the days after my divorce, when the world was scary and uncertain. I would lie next to Angela while she napped, knowing that the hurt would not last forever, that the anguish and despair I felt then would only serve to enrich the life that would come later.
If motherhood and divorce have taught me anything, it is that nothing lasts forever. Not suffering. Not happiness. Good times are just as fleeting as bad. Pleasure and pain come and go no matter how tightly we try to hold onto it or how hard we pray it away.
I wish I could say that I've mastered this lesson of impermanence, that I can accept the difficult moments with as much grace and gratitude as the wonderful moments. For me, it's a practice. And motherhood gives me plenty of chances to train.
Today, Angela and I strolled through a farmer's market, eating fresh strawberries and green beans under a cloudless California sky. Tomorrow, she might hate me, kick me or threaten to run away to grandma's house. I might even offer to help her pack.
Instead of wishing for one moment more than the other, I will try to let each one settle on my soul, like a butterfly that has landed on my finger -- and know that when it flies away, it will never be back.