Our babies were wrinkled and tiny and new and now they’re not. Our babies were little and dependent and ours and now they aren’t.
We don’t know when it changed, all we know is that it did. It’s like the plane engine humming throughout a flight yet you only realize how loud it was in the air once you’re in the silence on the ground. It is looking back and realizing that we are different now than we were then.
I know when my girl took her first steps, I know when she first rode a bike, I know the face she makes when she is trying so hard to be brave but I don’t know exactly when she stopped being my baby. She is still my girl, but she is becoming her own now, too. She is central to my story, but she’s beginning to realize she has her own story to tell now, too.
For so many wild, intense years we have been the structure on which they stood as they learned their way in this world; it was okay though, because we have a strength that they didn’t have yet. They needed to borrow ours until they discovered their own.
But here we sit- on the runway, engine silent, days away from Kindergarten- sensing the shift, facing the fact that our babies are strong enough now.
When we’re feeling a little compromised, we’ll think back to them as actual babies and a few betraying tears might sneak out. We’ll clutch our chest, imagining their flour-sack weight against us in the middle of the night; those nights we cried through because all we wanted was a few hours of rest. We’ll remember the paths we walked in the hallways to their rooms at night- two, three, four times- and fed and changed and rocked and noticed their whole entire hand wrapped around our one right thumb.
We’ll smile as we remember the time they were two and threw a whole bowl of yogurt across the kitchen and the mess it made on the wall, feeling the pressure of having to respond in the exact right way in that exact moment otherwise we were sure to be the mom sending a hellion to kindergarten who throws food across the cafeteria. We’ll remember the exhaustion of tantrums in Target and the exhaustion of potty-training and the exhaustion of raising kids because kids are exhausting.
Her favorite color is blue and she loves to play mermaids and loves to have her back rubbed just below her shoulders. She launches herself into the swimming pool and walks on a balance beam but fixes her eyes on mine when her heart feels stung by a friend, trying to figure out how to respond. She likes to explore and test how far she can venture but likes to know I’m there to catch her if she falls.
We know these things about our babies. We know the secrets they whisper to us and the ones they don’t think we see. We know the meaning of their cries and what they do when they’re tired.
Will her teacher know that the big line she draws with the two littles going off near the top is a Y, and that sometimes her B’s are backwards but she worked so hard on it and would be crushed if you’re a little too harsh about it?
Will her teacher learn the face she makes when she feels lonely, when she feels disappointed, when she has a question but doesn’t know how to ask it?
Will my girl get lost in the sea of other kids in her class?
Will her teacher love her?
Will my baby remember to say please and thank you?
Will she make friends?
Will she remember to go to the bathroom?
Will she miss me?
And then the one that catches in my throat: Did I do this well?
Did I cuddle her enough, hold her hand enough, teach her enough, cherish her enough?
We wonder, did we do a good enough job with the five and a half years that they were entrusted to us, showing them that their wings are strong enough to fly?
Mamas, I assure you, you did. You loved them fiercely and completely and well.
These days that they have been ours and young and close they have been protected and cared for and free.
But now it’s time for them to go, not because we want them to but because they must.
Mamas, this is one of those moments that we’ll remember forever, bent down on the living room floor, seeing that look in their eyes, the excitement in knowing their legs are strong enough now to take those steps. Their minds are set on what they have to do and we sit right next to them, there to catch them if they fall, but cheering them on as they take those wobbly first steps away from our protective grasp.
So let’s cheer them on. Let’s remind them that they are brave and smart and can do hard things and they are strong enough now.
And let’s remind ourselves too that we are brave and can do hard things and this is exactly how it’s supposed to go.
Let’s hold our younger babies a little tighter today, because we are now achingly aware that it does, indeed, go quickly.
Let’s celebrate the day with an ice cream cone and be waiting in the kitchen with their favorite snack when they get home.
Let’s shed a few tears, because change is always hard, but let’s enjoy the moment because this is one of the big ones.
And may we be the first to cheer them on, right by their side so they know we’re there to catch them if they fall, but willing to let go so that they learn how far they can soar.