The house is quiet now.
Minutes ago, the excitement was palpable. Energy reverberated from wall to wall, winding about the house. I was dizzy in the chaos and overwhelmed by the noise.
And now, I'm alone. The children joined the morning walking parade to school, and the silence rushed in as they exited the house. A quick light-switch flicked and the color faded away.
Most mornings, I relish the moment our microwave timer announces it is time for school. I enjoy the quiet, and the stillness often soothes me. But not always.
Some mornings, oftentimes when the sun is reluctant and the warmth a distant memory, I ache with loneliness and am haunted by my bitter-sweet memories.
I've read that when someone loses a limb, they sometimes still experience the weight and sensation of that appendage. My empty arms ache with the phantom weight of my babies. Each lovingly framed photograph wounds me, taunts me with memories of toothless smiles and sweet fluffy baby hair.
I close my eyes as tears soundlessly fall and I remember:
- The warm compact weight of a newborn curled into my body, against my heart
- The memory of impossibly soft, downy, baby-chick hair caressing my cheek and tickling my nose
- The wet, warm, slimy sensation of big open-mouthed toothless baby kisses on my closed mouth and chin
- The expression of pure joy when each baby recognized me as his/her mommy for the first time, as someone different from all of the others in a room. I was the most important thing in the universe to my baby in those moments, and all I did was walk into the room
- The years of rapid discovery and abundant surprise
- The shocked expression and grimace on their sweet faces each time a new food was introduced
- The plastic crinkling sound of a tiny diapered bottom while I softly patted an overly-tired, frustrated or sick baby and paced the floor
- The feel of a tiny, chubby, perpetually warm, sticky toddler hand wrapped within mine
- The days when their hugs and kisses were dispensed with frequency and exuberance
- When my kisses dried tears, all problems could be solved within the secure circle of my arms, and licensed character band-aids cured all boo-boos
- The years of make-believe and magic. I mourn this loss of possibility most of all: the years filled with pixie dust, fairies, dragons, adventures, quests and abundant magic - magic lamps, magic beans, magic talking animals, magic mirrors! Oh, what I wouldn't give to return to the years when my children truly believed that anything was possible and that I was the most magical person in the universe!
I do treasure my older children. I appreciate their independence. I admire their tenacity, courage and intelligence. I do not doubt the brilliant future ahead. I will cheer the loudest with each accomplishment even while my empty arms ache and I cling to my memories.
I wouldn't want to stunt their progress or delay their growth away from childhood, away from me; however, it doesn't mean that I mourn their vanishing childhood any less.
I've learned to live on stolen kisses, those quick pecks I can plant on their heads as they hurriedly exit the house. My heart survives on those surreptitious smooches I sneak as they leave me behind in their quest for independence and new experiences. And I hoard the memories of their infrequent dashes back through that front door, back to me, back to the circle of my arms. I memorize the feel of their arms hesitantly embracing me as they softly murmur - so quietly and so quickly that I almost don't hear it - "I love you, Mama."
To those with babies and toddlers: Enjoy your babies, your sometimes sleepless nights filled with snuggling potential, your freely given smiles and kisses. Memorize the little details and hoard those memories! What will you miss most when your baby/toddler grows? What stage or developmental milestone will you celebrate the most when they accomplish it?
To those whose children have grown: How have you coped? How have you learned to reconcile the sweet baby memories with the moody teenage years? What strategies or tools have you developed to move forward?
Please share your stories and strategies.