There are only so many “firsts” that happen in your life. Your first love, your first home, and, of course, your first baby. Most first-time experiences happen, are lived momentarily, and then are soon stored as memories.
With a baby, however, you are gifted with a prolonged period of time in which there are many firsts. It begins with the first time you give birth to your child and swiftly courses past first teeth, first steps, first words, and so on until the “firsts” come quicker than you can count them.
It is why most moms, camera in hand, stand at the ready to capture each moment. Determined, we permanently press every precious first into film before it evaporates into the fog of feedings, nap schedules, and play dates.
With my first son, there weren’t many days I didn’t have a camera pointed at him. I wanted photographic evidence of every smile, every laugh and even every frown. I wanted these pictures so that I would be able to relive each one of these moments in the years to come. At least I thought I would.
I was to learn, way too soon, that my mother having raised four children knew far better what lies at the end of the journey. She spoke of us as children with a longing, a deep missing of what was and would never be again. Her poignancy in recalling these times were due, I now know, to her ache to have just one moment back.
During an ordinary phone conversation with my mom, I excitedly detailed the latest adorable kid antic I was adding to my mounting photo albums. My mother, wistfully asked, “Does it make you sad to look at his baby pictures? Do you miss the baby?”
Because my son was only two at the time, I thought her questions were silly. After all, my baby was still a baby. There was nothing to miss. I was in the thick of it, living it, memories of babyhood newly formed and remembered well. So, I laughed and casually answered, “No.” And honestly, I couldn’t imagine a time when these treasured pictures would make me sad until they did.
Years later and another son added, I one day discovered my little boys, heads together, pouring over photo albums found tucked in the darkness of a cabinet rarely opened. Pointing and giggling, they were both amused and in awe of their former tiny selves.
Curious, I kneeled down to look. Flipping through the pages more slowly than they seemed to turn in life, I oohed and awed over their cuteness. I also gasped at how much they’d grown. Activity-filled days and new milestones to mark, I’d forgotten how small they’d been.
It was then I felt it—sharply and keenly—the ache, the longing, the loss. Closing the book quickly, I told them I couldn’t look anymore. As their little, round, inquisitive eyes stared at me, I simply said, “It makes me too sad.”
I stood, feeling the sting of tears. I took a deep breath and remembered my mother’s words. Looking down at my still small boys, I knew in a blink they would be men and the hurt would double.
I love my boys now and I will love the men they will become, but I will always miss my babies. That’s what no one tells you. It isn’t childbirth, late night feedings, wearing spit-up, or dealing with tantrums that is the hard part. It’s the growing up part that is the hardest.