As parents, we don’t let our kids go all at once . . . but in countless ordinary moments that often go unnoticed. It’s not as much about the firsts, but the lasts that aren’t even recognized as such until we find ourselves frantically searching our memory for when exactly the last came and went.

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The last time your newborn slept in your arms. The last time she toddled instead of walked. The last time he begged you for one more kiss before bed or called out for you in the middle of the night just because he missed you. The last time she reached for your hand.

And the last time he made that adorable mispronunciation you secretly hoped he’d say forever.

The last time they fought over your lap. The last time you were imitated. The last time you addressed rapid-fire questioning about something as extraordinary as the moon or as mundane as traffic because you have all the answers. The last time you were called mama.

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Many lasts are masqueraded as freedom and celebrated with pride.

The last 3 a.m. feeding. The last diaper change. The last time you pulled on a snow boot, zipped up a coat, or bent over a bathtub to suds up a slippery little body.

And I suspect that’s life’s way of easing the heartache.

The letting go, the weight of a warm little hand slipping out of ours happens slowly, sticky finger by finger.

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If it happened any other way, I’m certain the pain would crush us. The agonizing moans of mothers everywhere would pierce the sky. Instead, our hearts break and mend over and over again for the entire course of parenthood, which by my calculation, is forever.

Because once you’re a mother, you are always a mother.

There is no turning back from that kind of love or joy. Letting go is heart-wrenching, but what we hold, though only for a little while, is so worth it.

Previously published on the author’s Instagram

Sunny Russell

Mama of two, educator, and ally. Hobbies include penning love letters and grocery lists, reading in 10-minute increments, tucking toddlers into bed, and practicing the art of gratitude.