Every time my baby walks away from me, she comes back a little bit older.

This hit me the other night. It was past bedtime, but she had come out of her room and found me in the backyard. I can’t even remember what it was she “needed.” Maybe a drink of water, maybe she had a hangnail, or maybe (probably) she just didn’t want to call it a day quite yet. Whatever the reason, after a few moments and one more hug goodnight, she was walking away from me back to the house. And it hit me.

Every time our babies walk away from us, they come back a little bit older.

I don’t know what it was about this specific moment. I’ve seen her prance away from me thousands of times a day for four and a half yearslaughing in glee, crying in dismay, dragging her feet, a hop in her step, the list could go on, yet none of those times brought this thought to my mind. 

But this time. This time.

I saw her walking away and knew when I saw her next, she’d be just a little bit older.

Not much, it would just be 8-10 hours or so, but older still. She’d be older.

Maybe it was the way her hair fell just so on her back as she turned her head slightly to the side to look at the evening birds perched on the fence, and I realized just how long ago those long locks had barely formed a curly halo around a pudgy face. Maybe it was the way her PJ shirt sort of looked like one of those trendy tunic dresses girls wear to look fancy-casual, and I pictured her getting ready to go out with friends to a high school dance. Maybe it was the way her long legs covered the grass between me and the porch so quickly and deftly, with no stumble in her step or totter in her trek.

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Maybe it was the fact she didn’t look back at me before going inside to her bed for the night. I think maybe it was.

I saw my baby girl walking away from me older than she had been before, but younger than she would be when she came back to me next.

And it broke my heart and made it soar all in the same instant. 

Motherhood is weird like that. Conflicting emotions all tangled up inside one body, one mind, one heart. We squeal as our babies reach the next milestone and phase of childhood, proud of their accomplishments and proud (rightly so) of the role we’ve played. Yet, we see Facebook memories pop up from two years ago of our 6-week-old’s gummy smile and shed a little tear for the babyface that’s thinned and the gums that have sprouted a full mouth of teeth. We celebrate making it through to uninterrupted nights of sleep but think wistfully of those middle of the night baby snuggles that are but memories fading as quickly as the old milk-stained nursing tank tucked into a just in case bag in the back of the closet. 

It’s one of the many secrets of motherhood. One that can be verbally told to you, but cannot be fully understood until you watch your baby crawl away slowly, only to return, seemingly in an instant, running full tilt back to you years older. You see, Father Time and motherhood have a push and pull relationship. Motherhood begs for Father Time to speed up, while he is actually sneakily stealing from motherhood the whole time. Motherhood sees this when looking back but has a hard time stopping it in the moment. The result is a jumble of emotions and thoughts and experiences like mine in the grass. 

The result is, every time our babies walk away from us, they come back a little older.

I don’t know the remedy to this particular dance of motherhood and Father Time, as it’s been going on for as long as the world’s been turning. However, I do know that I am in control of my right now. 

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I can take the picture as my baby walks back to the house, to document her simultaneous youngness and growing elegance. I can sneak in one more butterfly kiss before naptime because not only will she still let me, she will even giggle all the while.  I can cuddle my 2-year-old a few moments longer in the trusty rocking chair while her legs still sort of fit across my lap, silently wishing the chair could play back the hours of special moments with both daughters to which it has borne witness.

I can read one more book before she starts reading them herself. I can take the training wheels off and cheer as she flies down the road while pushing her little sister in the red flyer trike, relishing the way her feet don’t quite reach the pedals. I can sing “Into the Unknown” one more time and chuckle at the irony of how appropriate a song it is for raising young children.

I can smooch their cheeks over and over until they squeal with laughter for me to stop because someday they’ll just say stop with no squealing and no laughter. I can drop them off at daycare with a kiss and a hug and be cognizant of the fact that when I pick them up at the end of the day, they will be just a bit older than when I dropped them off. 

Because this is my gift. This is my burden. This is my privilege. Motherhood.  

As much as Father Time plays his tricks, I know this time I have with my kids is our time to spend together. Not mourning what was before but delighting in what is now. Not fearing what is to come, but taking joy in the unique little people, my unique little people, becoming slightly bigger unique people right before my eyes. 

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Every time my babies walk away from me, they come back a little older. 

I better make the most of the time I have before they walk away. I better make sure they know just how very much they are loved and wanted so they will always come back.

No matter how much older they’ve become while they’re away.

Kiley Hillner

Kiley Hillner lives in Texas with her husband and two beautiful daughters. She works full time and recently graduated with her MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She is loving life and embracing the chaotic beauty of motherhood. You can find more of her thoughts on this parenting gig on her blog and on Facebook.