Some people are lucky. They know how to live in the present, how to look forward to whatever new challenge lies around the next corner. I still haven’t mastered it. I tend to go more slowly, looking over my shoulder the whole way, reaching back with one outstretched arm trying to cling to the past. I keep keys from old houses (if they’re cool), and reminisce at old photos (especially black and whites). The past is special. I treasure it and caress it, sometimes to a fault. Which is why, when my aging body found a new way to betray me this morning, I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I was. I was completely blindsided and so I took it right on the chin.
We were on a train in the Denver Airport, on our way to the gate when I saw them. Standing with her back to me was a young woman wearing a backpack. And snuggled down in that pack, looking right at me, was a baby. He was probably 5 or 6 months old, if I’m not too far gone to recognize that anymore, and was staring at me with these big, round, innocent eyes. I could smell the clean freshness of his baby powder and though of course I didn’t reach out, I knew exactly how perfectly fuzzy-smooth his head would feel cupped in my palm.
Before I knew what had happened (and I’m literally talking micro-seconds here) my mind screamed, “We should have a baby! We should totally have another baby!”
Except, I don’t want a baby. I don’t want to be pregnant and puffy, to have my ankles swell beyond recognition. I don’t want to change diapers or potty train again. I don’t want to live in fear as my kid shoves everything (rocks, marbles, sand, leaves, sticks, etc.) straight into her mouth, testing the limits of what “chokeable” really means. And I certainly don’t want to listen to the fits of a defiant toddler again.
And yet, there I was, standing on the train in the airport, overcome by a strangely visceral, almost uncontrollable urge to be the mother of an infant again, to hold the gentle weight of a baby in my arms. See? Complete betrayal.
But still, I was okay. Maybe a little weak in the knees, a bit shell-shocked for sure, but stable. I didn’t completely lose it until the baby started sticking his tiny little tongue out and smiling, until he reminded me of how my daughter, at just about this age, had done the exact same thing.
And that’s when I came unglued. Because I will never again hear the adorable little piggy sound she used to make when she nursed. Because her favorite stuffed animal, Penny, who she could never be without, sits on a chair in her room instead of going with her on sleepovers or trips. Because music, texting, clothes and boys have become more important than Barbies and how to perfectly twirl in a sparkling princess dress. Because my beautiful daughter will never be small again, and will never stick her tiny tongue out, mimicking her dad and me.
I guess as the years rolled by I just never realized how far gone, how truly over, all of that really was. My throat got thick and tight, my nose started to run and my eyes swelled with silent tears. I turned my head and, feeling like a sentimental wuss, hoped no one had noticed.
With nothing but travel time ahead of me, it was hard to shake my funk. Eventually we boarded and I sat, leaning my head against the small plane window as we flew home, watching the snow-capped mountains slowly pass below, watching how the bright sun reflected on a river below, making it look like a thin, twisting ribbon of mirrored silver. I was morose, mourning the loss of my early motherhood.
And then, in front of me, I noticed a different woman. She was leaning forward, hurriedly digging through a bag, looking for her son’s Spiderman toy while her younger daughter yanked on her arm, crying, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” over and over. The woman was obviously having one of those days, you know, the kind that makes every parent long for a hot bath and a cocktail. Alone. For a place where no one can claw at you with insistent, chubby little hands.
Finally, she broke.
Other people looked over, judging, I guess, as she lost her cool for a minute, but I sympathized. I knew how many times I had said the exact same thing, desperate for a break from the nagging and whining. “Just wait!” “Hang on!” “Give me a minute!” They were all part of the vocabulary.
I looked back out the window, at the crisp, beautiful day, and took a deep breath. The more things changed, the more they really did stay the same.
My heart, you see, had been heavy all morning, breaking and crying out with the same, persistent plea to slow it all down, “Just wait!” “Hang on!” “Give me another minute!”
And this time, as the irony mirrored the truth like the sun on the twisting water below, it was almost too much.