Almost 11.

She rides shotgun now.

And wears my shoes. The ones that no longer fit me.

At a certain point you’re supposed to stop growing. At least most of you is supposed to stop.

My feet grew though. A half size times three.

She’s the oldest. Responsible for the first half size of podiatric stretch.

She’s responsible for so much.

She’s next to me. Her profile growing more refined with each glance. I can barely see the baby see once was.

My shoes won’t fit her next year.

Then she turns to me. Her eyes have not changed.

Their blue grey shining with the reflection ice lacquered trees outside her window. Reflecting my love. And making my heart grow a half size.

“Keep your eyes on the road, mama,” she says.

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Waning moon.

His limbs wrap around me like a boa constrictor. My neck, my waist, my left leg encircled and a hand stretched impossibly from the base of my skull to my cheek.

This 6 year old belongs in his own bed. But I don’t move him. I don’t resist his nighttime slithering and squeezing because I know this will not last. Soon enough he’ll decide he’s too old for this.

As my mom laid in a hospital bed after learning she was diagnosed with a cancer that would all too soon take her from us, I slid myself in next to her. I wrapped my limbs around her and squeezed.

My mom was a next level snuggler. She loved us in her bed. At some point though, I was too old for such raw affection. I stopped my slumbered slipping into her room.

Now my big girls, once baby boa constrictors themselves, still find their way into my bed. Mostly when they’re sick but sometimes, on rare weekend mornings when we’re not rushed to get to a soccer field or ice rink, they’ll snuggle. We’ll talk about the things on their minds. Big things and small things. But it’s not enough.

That warmth, their whispered questions in the pale morning light, their arms around me. It’s pure mama bliss.

It’s dark tonight. Clouds send the waning moon’s light back toward heaven.

I’m not moving him out of the bed.

Mama’s Day

Motherhood is whispering the end of the story to an 8 year old who’s too afraid to keep reading Harry Potter. It’s unclogging a toilet when a kid finally poops after 5 days of not pooping. It’s combing lice.

It’s watching a night vision video monitor intently, trying to see if the baby’s chest is rising and falling but not wanting to go in and wake her up. It’s reading a book you’ve read a thousand times and trying (and failing) to match the enthusiasm and voices you’ve given to its characters the last 999 times.

It’s craving the scent of the napes of their necks and their bodies snuggled in your bed when they really should be in their own. It’s worrying if they’ll remember that thing you said in frustration that you wish you hadn’t. It’s imagining who they’ll be as teens, as adults, without you.

It’s excruciating.

It’s excruciatingly beautiful.

I miss my mom.

I want to be a great mom.

I’m so very grateful to be a mom.

Agency.

For months she’d been asking to get her ears pierced. Her sister did it for her 8th birthday two years ago without incident.  A quick visit to a local retail chain and, click, click, sister was done.  On to a lifetime of accessorizing her earlobes with assorted enamel emojis, sure to be followed by dangly odd creations in her teens, and someday a couple of tasteful, inherited pearls.

Little sister’s 8th birthday was a week behind us when we arrived at the mall. The piercing had to wait until the soccer season wrapped up. We scooted straight from the last game to the mall, excitement building as we discussed the relative merits of a simple gold ball vs. a heart or star.  The non-ball shapes would be easier to turn which anyone who’s ever been pierced knows is an important task. As the wound heals you don’t want adhesion.

Adhesion.

“What is adhesion, mama?  Is it painful? Will it hurt when they put the earrings in, will it hurt afterward? Is it like a shot or a little pinch? On a scale of one to a billion just how much will it hurt.”

Oh boy.

Trouble was brewing.  Still we made it to the store and completed the paperwork. We watched as two slightly older junior cheerleaders with large bows in their hair sat still while bezeled cubic zirconias were plunged into their lobes. Click, wince, click. Click, “that wasn’t so bad,” click.

No tears. Big smiles, as big as their bows.

Then it was our turn. She sat in the high chair, like a bar stool, looking like she could use some liquid courage. Her eyes, pupils now swollen to twice their usual size, were darting all over the place.

“It’s okay, kiddo. It’s going to be fine. Do you still want to do this?”

She did. But she needed a minute.

That minute turned to 36. 36 minutes of a patient latex-gloved piercer standing by while my poor girl alternated between deep breaths and whispered self-encouragement.

You can do this. No biggie. You can do this. But I don’t want to do this. But I want to do this. You can do this. Don’t be scared, don’t be scared, don’t be scared.

And so it went for 8 more minutes. 44 minutes of sitting in that high chair. 44 minutes of me working through my own waves of guilt, frustration, love, pride, and acceptance.

So what.

Come on.

Do I hold her down?

We should go.

Let’s give her another minute.

I’m pretty sure every minute I let her sit here is an hour of therapy I’ll need to pay for some day.

I should tell her to suck it up.

This is what she wants.

It’s her body.

It’s not my choice.

It’s not anyone else’s choice but hers.

We left at the 44 minute mark. Her ears bearing small black Sharpie dots where earrings might have been.

I paid for the earrings because the hypoallergenic case had been opened.

She says she wants to try again when she’s 9.

That smile.

Her mouth is a jumble of big and small teeth.  When she smiles a single adult front tooth disrupts the upper row, throwing the whole grin adorably off-kilter with its size and slight angle inward.  I was staring at a picture texted to me by my husband of her face and that smile tonight, expanding the image between my finger and thumb until all I could see was that smile.  It’s the first physical manifestation of her transition from my little girl to…not so little.  Sure, there was the whole baby teething time period, but that was still a part of infancy.  A time when I could not wait for those milestones to come and go.  But now, I’m not so eager.

I stared at that tooth and my heart sank.  We are on the march to adolescence, and it’s a fast one.  Rag-time fast and syncopated.

She’s only 7.  Some days she wants to sit on my lap and have me hum a familiar song. She nuzzles in while I comb her hair with my fingers, from her temple around her ear to her neck.  The low hum and repeated path of my fingers along her scalp lulls her to sleep. Other days she’ll talk to me about her little sister and brother in the hushed voice of a wise collaborator in parenting.

Mom, don’t worry.  I told him that sometimes you have to try things that make you a little nervous ’cause that’s when the great stuff happens. I told him it’s okay to be scared, and that you can be brave and scared at the same time.  

I’m nervous, but I know great stuff is about to happen.  All too soon her smile will be uniformly grown-up [please God, without the assistance of orthodonture] and she’ll shudder when I start to hum that slow song.  At times she’ll wish for the 250 miles of distance that lies between us tonight, and roll her eyes when I remember out loud that day when she got her first pair of glasses and how cute her little snaggletooth smile was.  She’ll also be on her way to becoming the amazing adult I get to see glimpses of now.   Sweet and brave and strong. Clever and kind and freckled.

Still, I already miss the little girl she was just last year and I miss her tonight, right now.

Good nigh, sweet girl. Mommy loves you.

Good night, sweet girl. Mommy loves you.

The Last Day.

My children are 6 and a half, almost 5 and 2. They are not babies anymore.  I know, I know…it goes so fast.  Kids grow up.  From the time you are first visibly pregnant, strangers tell you to enjoy it. They grow up so fast.  They are right, of course, though the topic of unsolicited and largely unwelcome parenting advice is for another time (as is the topic of people asking if you are pregnant).   It does go fast–sometimes. Other times the clock feels like it is moving about half as fast as a century-old turtle in molasses.  The sleep-little nights stack up to a mountain of exhaustion and you feel like it is never going to end.

I have wished out loud more than a few times for time to speed up.  I’ve longed for the end of sore nipples and for the diaper deliveries to cease. For the irrational “no” to stop being the most common word that escapes my 2 year old’s mouth.  For meals in public and adult conversations that are not cut short by the behavior of tiny-tot tyrants. For a time when I no longer have to brush 3 sets of teeth before I brush my own in the morning.  I know I shouldn’t wish for these days to end.  Each day is a gift and [insert another e-card inspirational quote and/or phrase here].  There are truly so many wonderful things about babies and small children, but for every delicious first giggle there is a brutal first fit of inconsolable crying.  This parenting thing is wonderful, and it’s excruciating.

But the days inevitably go by without our prompting, and babies–they stop being babies.  A few days ago, my 2 year old chose to use a potty.  We’d placed the green plastic seat in his room weeks ago and I half-heartedly planned for a weekend of potty training that would take place later, when I was ready for it.  He had his own ideas though and didn’t wait for me to be ready.  I was changing him for bed and he said, “I use da potty.”  I smiled and plopped him down, and he immediately employed the receptacle as it was intended.  We high-fived and cheered. He shrieked, “I deed it! I deed it!”, while his sisters danced a happy potty dance around him (think the classic sprinkler move…with an imaginary toilet, and the arms are not spraying water…well, you get it).   The entire surface of his face was painted with joy.  I was watching him watch his sisters and committing his triumphant, scrunched-nose smile to memory, when it hit me.  He’s not a baby.  I don’t have babies anymore.

This thing that I had wished for in so many low moments had happened.  Time was speeding by and it was as bittersweet as the chocolate I used to console myself after they were all in bed that night.

If we are lucky, our kids grow up.  We get to see them change and learn new things about the world and themselves.  We get to sit across the table from them and hear their thoughts on caterpillars, friendship and why ancient cultures no longer exist.  We get to see glimpses of the kind and funny, sarcastic and athletic, cunning and creative adults they will be.  And, if we are very lucky, we get to see them actually become those adults.

It was his last day as a baby, but I wished for more.  More days with my babies in all of their post-diaper glory, dancing awkwardly in celebration of passing milestones.  More time with them not yet embarrassed by my hugs and kisses and still craving bedtime stories.  And more days spent enjoying the moment we are in rather than wishing for the clock to speed up.

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Me and first baby.