The further from babyhood we get, the more the threads holding me to my children start to sever themselves. First step (pop!), can swing on her own (ping!), can ride his bike (snap!), first spend the night (kaboom!). You always know the firsts, especially with your first child. Everything is carefully recorded in a baby book with the date and maybe a photo. Even with the last child, there’s a Facebook or IG post marking the “first word” milestone that will pop up on your timeline to remind you one day that your baby did not in fact come out of the womb such a loud mouth. But there are precious few records of the lasts.
Sure, there are preschool graduation pictures and fifth-grade graduations, and senior graduations. Those are all lasts. But they are momentous and will be remembered. The lasts that really signify the end of babyhood and childhood — the lasts that finally break all the threads that leave my child dependent on me — those pass in small moments, usually unnoticed in the busyness of life, always without a photo or any kind of recognition of the occasion.
The last time I held your hand so you could take steps on your own. The last diaper I changed (not sad about that). The last time I blew raspberries on your tummy. The last time I wrapped you in a warm, dry towel after a bath and held you close. The last time I read to you before bed, because the next night you said, “I can do it myself, I don’t need you anymore.” The last time you slipped your hand in mine on a walk to school, if only for a few moments before your friends came in sight. The last time I rested my chin on your head while we watched a movie, snuggled together, before you grew too tall.
I don’t remember the last time you fell asleep in my arms and I placed you in your crib, or the last Christmas you still believed in Santa. I remember the triumph and pride when you finally took off on your pink bike and I wasn’t holding on and you flew down the street. I remember the tears in my eyes when I watched you dance across the stage on pointe shoes for the first time. But I know when I watch your last performance I won’t know it. You’ll decide, at some point, that school is keeping you too busy for ballet or there are other things you want to try, and reluctantly the pointe shoes may make their way to the back of the closet. But at the time when I’m watching you under the stage lights, none of that will be a date marked on my calendar.
There are baby things we have given away — bouncers, onesies, games. They slowly make their way to the door. Sometimes it hurts my heart to get rid of something (pink kitchen), sometimes I force it out the door maybe too early (annoying weird monster truck toy with eight million sounds and lights). It is easy to see growth in my children by the physical things we have around. The puzzles that are too easy. The board books they stop picking to read. The shirts that no longer cover their tummy, and the shoes that fit last week but not this.
The growing up is a good thing. The alternative is heartbreaking grief. But the small threads that break, one by one, every day — as they can reach the cupboard, pour their own milk, get their own water, tie their own shoes, brush their own teeth — just take them further from me. They will need me more as they grow, but the small things, the cuddles and kisses, the hands-on parenting that can be so exhausting, that slowly slips away. I won’t know the last time my son smashes a ball over the fence in T-ball. I won’t know the last time I’ll be able to help with math homework. I’ll know when the Play-Doh is dried out and they haven’t asked for more that they’ve moved on. But I won’t know the last rainy day I sit down to make a Play-Doh pizza is the last time.
So many precious lasts in the daily living with them. I play games with them when they ask, and color, and throw a baseball to them, sew their pointe shoes and demonstrate how to tie laces. I show them how to make macaroni, peel an orange, pour milk, pick up, dust, swing, swim, handle a lacrosse stick. I clip their nails and wash their faces and help with teeth brushing. I braid hair and put on Band-Aids and show them how to put laundry away. I want them to grow up and be independent, responsible, and kind people. I really do. But right now, I smooth their cheeks and kiss their noses while they sleep and brush their hair from their faces every chance I get. Because one day I will do this for the last time, and I won’t know it.