Sometimes it’s hard letting the littlest grow up.
On a rainy Saturday morning, I’m sipping hot ginger tea at our large granite kitchen island. The littlest stumbles out of his room, rubbing his eyes and looking for me. His blue pajama pants look a bit short on his lanky body, ankles sticking out too much. He spots me and rushes over, arms held high. We grin at each other and I turn to lift him onto my lap.
I find it nearly impossible to lift him. Did I mention he’s six years old, and rather tall? Eventually, I do haul him up onto the high bar stool with me. And throw my back out in the process. It would be funny if it weren’t so painful, me trying to lift a large kindergartner so I can coddle him. If only this were the first time I’d thrown my back out picking him up. It’s like I’m starring in a dark comedy about a clingy mom. Am I the clingy mom? Because I don’t remember auditioning for that role.
I reflect on this as I recover on a heating pad (for almost ten days). Why am I struggling to let The littlest grow up? This is the first year all three kids attend school all day, leaving me working from home in the quiet. Wasn’t I looking forward to this silence; even holding my breath a little in anticipation?
As my back slowly heals, I hobble around the house performing minor tasks. The littlest runs to me occasionally, arms raised, and I look down into his greyish eyes with a bittersweet smile, explaining, “I can’t pick you up anymore.” It’s true; I shouldn’t pick him up anymore. My body can’t handle it, and neither can my heart.
Record rainfall envelops the next few weeks and doesn’t help my mood. While my back heals I can’t walk the kids to school, so we bundle into raincoats and wellies and I escort them around the corner to the bus stop. The littlest doesn’t like that, of course. “But I want you to walk me to school. I’ll miss you on the bus,” he says, crying a little. I put him on the bus. This is good, I tell the sad mommy in my head. Let him go.
Mothering is the most natural job I’ve held so far. I suspected my destiny as a mom; that I would love it and flourish doing it, and I was right. Don’t get me wrong, colicky infants refusing to sleep at night drove me straight to the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity, but once the newborn chapter ends, I’m good to go. Now that momming isn’t my full-time gig anymore, I sense something has shifted, seismically. Our oldest graduates in six years, and suddenly I can’t imagine how parents send their kids to college without falling apart. Has my identity settled into these three offspring more than I anticipated? I thought I worked so hard against that, pursuing other interests in an effort not to lose myself. Yet I wonder if my happiest days are behind me, when they were three little planets revolving around my husband and me, their sun.
The rain stops one afternoon for the first time in weeks. My back feels better, and I sit on the couch watching out the front window, waiting for the kids’ return from school. The littlest emerges from behind the fir trees that line our street, running hard, backpack bouncing, sandy hair flying golden in the sunlight. Spotting me smiling at him, his face becomes dimples, and the most gorgeous smile you ever saw. He looks older somehow as he rushes confidently in the door and right to me, stopping in front of where I sit perched gingerly on the edge of the sofa. He proudly announces, “I like riding the bus now, mom. I just wanted you to know.”
My arms reach out for him, so he can enter into my embrace, and he happily melts into place. I can’t pick you up anymore, and I’ll try not to cling, but I will hold you, I promise him in my head.
And I will.