Forever Young

September 17, 2008

I’ve lost count of how many times in the last two and three-quarter years I’ve heard these words: they grow up so fast. I’ve heard it a lot. As of today, I’ve heard it a lot plus one. Today, I heard it again. A neighbor leaned over Jasper as I pushed him along in his stroller and uttered the familiar refrain. My, they grow up so fast.

Jasper is not quite four months old. There are foodstuffs forgotten at the back of our freezer that are older than he is. To look at him and think, my, how fast they grow! is extraordinary. But it’s true. He’s almost doubled in size since he was born. He bears no more resemblance to the squawling newborn that he was four months ago than he does to his any of his sister’s toy dolls. He’s a completely different child. That thrills and terrifies me.

It thrills me, obviously, because it’s exciting to watch them grow, to see them unfurl from their fetal huddle and open, like fat little flowers unfolding toward the sun. It’s thrilling to watch as their fingers begin to grab and clutch, to listen as their gurgles turn into giggles and coos. It’s amazing to watch them turn into little people. But it’s terrifying, too. It’s terrifying because with every passing moment of growth and transformation, with every step taken toward the person who will be, I lose the baby that was.

I look at baby Jasper and thrill at his adorable baby-ness; the curve of his cheek, the soft pout of his smile, the way that his eyes crinkle when he’s snuggled in at the breast and tries to grin with a mouthful of boob. I look at baby Jasper and I wonder, what ever became of that other baby, that first baby, the baby that I snuggled and rocked and nursed two years ago? Whatever became of the baby Emilia, my Wonderbaby? Why can I not remember her perfectly, when I tried so hard to commit every curve and roll and fold of her baby self to memory, so that I wouldn’t forget? Why is the memory of that baby so utterly obliterated by the force of her two-and-three-quarter year old self?

I look at Jasper and I miss Emilia. I look at him and miss her, even though she sits not two feet away from me, nursing her own baby, telling her own stories. I look at him and even though I can see something of her there, even though I can remember something of what it felt like to hold her just this way, to stroke her cheek just like that, those memories remain just out of reach and that child, the baby-child that she once was, remains lost.

The force of that loss feels all the stronger, having recently visited my sixteen-year-old nephew on his sickbed and been confronted by both the fact of his undeniable teenageness and the fact of the diminishment of that teenageness through illness: there he was, all six-feet-something of him swaddled in hospital blankets like a baby and all I could think was, where has he gone? The teenager replaced the baby boy in him and the sick child replaced the teenage boy and I was left there, just holding his hand, missing him, willing him to open his big green eyes so that I could see his heart, the thing that is constant in him, the thing that is constant in all these children that we love, these beings who will grow and change and leave their littler selves behind. The heart, after all, remains the same, even as they grow and change or – gods forbid – become ill and diminished in illness. And so we mouth platitudes about clinging to their hearts.

It is their hearts – Emilia’s heart, Jasper’s heart – that hold me, that bind me to them, that keep me rooted to their sides, loving them and watching them grow. But the little bodies that contain those hearts… aaaah, those I love, and have loved, too. And I miss them as they pass into memory. Their tiny hands, their tiny feet, their wee proud bellies cresting above bloated diapers as they lay giggling on the floor, squirming away from me as I blow wet raspberry kisses and make silly faces and clutch at their fat, ticklish legs. That was Emilia then, that is Jasper now, that will all soon be memory, fragile memory, the kind that lingers just out of reach, like smoke or mist, dissipating in the very moment that you reach out to touch it. Dissipating, disappearing.

I look at him and I miss her; I look at him and I miss him, because I know that he’ll be gone soon, the little him who I clutch in my arms, nuzzle and nurse, to be replaced by a bigger, faster, sturdier him who will race away from me, faster, further. Just like her.

I miss them, my children. I miss them even though I hold them close.

Is this why a parent’s love always dances on the razor’s edge of heartbreak?

*******

Still no word from WestJet. No word at all. So much for customer service.

The CBC video of my interview is now online and posted over at BlogHers Act Canada. Also check out Defining Someday’s Breastfeeding Without Blankets Blog Carnival – she’s rounded up a bunch of posts on this topic (let her know if you have one to add). And if you have a look at the trackbacks on both of my breastfeeding posts, you’ll see links to more really awesome posts on the subject. Do check them out – and let me know if you write your own.

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    { 75 comments }

    cathy September 17, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I think that you just spoke for every mother with this post. Going to give my 2 yr old raspberries on her belly now while I still can…

    blissfullycaffeinated September 17, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I have felt this so many times. I look at my four-year-old and it’s like she is a completely separate entity from the baby that I used to hold in my arms. You’ve captured that bittersweet feeling so perfectly, and so beautifully, here.

    sara September 17, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    That last line made me cry.

    liz September 17, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Yes.

    Booba Juice September 17, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Your post brought tears to my eyes. I have experienced the same thing, and its enough to break your heart. It is so hard to think that one day, I will be greatful to just talk to my girls on the phone several times a week. But for now I will focus on the now, the beautiful little things that they are. And enjoy!!!

    for a different kind of girl September 17, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Your children are so beautiful, and look gloriously happy. This post is everything I had in my heart when I sat holding my firstborn, committing him to memory as he was then, completely unable to see that as clearly now that he’s 11, wishing he’d stand still long enough for me to commit this point into my soul.

    Thank you for this…

    lisa {milkshake} September 17, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Oh, yes.

    Kaye September 17, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    This was so beautiful and made me bawl. My 18 year old just left a couple of days ago to join the Air Force. I didn’t want to let him go. All I could think was “this happened way too soon! where did my baby boy go?”

    Heartbreak…yes.

    Anonymous September 17, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    Are we not all a composite of all of our former selves? Is not a part you still that eleven year old girl? Do we not all need to be comforted like a small nuzzling child sometimes? The good thing is that we are still all of those people but even better, we get to be who we are including all of those layers of former selves. Our job as parents is tough, we have to encourage the next more independant level in our children at the same time as balancing the caring, supportive, nurturance of the younger child within them. They will always need our love and support; even when they don’t look like they need it; even when they don’t know that they need. When they are 35 and hurting, we can nurture themm the same way we did when they were a very young child; briefly though, because we have raised them to be functional independant adults and soon they will pull themselves together and make the decisions they need to make and get on with the next step in their life. How we achieve the balance act of supporting and nurturing all of the ages and stages within our children while supportingly promoting them to the next level of independence is an art. A mom in our circle of friends used to tell her eleven year old boy “you are growing up so fast”. She meant it with love, as an observation. But he took it completely the wrong way…he told his grandmother “my mother doesn’t want me to grow up”. He felt his mothers comments like a burden or like a disappointment. He didn’t want to disappoint her…but he was growing up just fine and was enjoying doing so until he felt it was at odds with how his mother felt about him growing up. Wow, innocent comments made with love, made about simple observations but with such an unintended heart heavy burden. Fortunately, Grandma told the mom and the mom and the boy talked about it and got it all straigtened out. She loved him, she wanted him to continue to grow up and be the person he was going to be next and then next and then next but she missed the baby he was.

    Anonymous September 17, 2008 at 11:26 pm

    Oh, all so true. But if they don’t grow up, if they are frozen in babyhood forever in your memory because they didn’t get that chance…

    …that is truly unbearable.

    Two Hands Full September 17, 2008 at 11:27 pm

    Last night my 8 (!) year old son said, “Mama, I think the time has come when I’m done being cuddled at bedtime.”

    8 years already of constant changing, and one day even this momentous change will seem like something from his smallest, freshest years.

    It’s awesome, and scary, and sweet. Thanks for reminding me about the boob smile. I loved that!

    Mimi September 18, 2008 at 11:31 am

    on the propensity of swingsets to evoke maternal melancholy?

    this>

    Redneck Mommy September 18, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I’m going to stop blogging all together and just direct everyone over here.

    You say it so much better than I ever could.

    Smooches.

    Theresa September 18, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Yesterday a friend with a 4 month old looked at my nearly 10 month old and said that mine wasn’t really a baby anymore :( And she is right. It just goes way way way too fast.

    reynolda September 18, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    Amazing how you put it all into words, those feelings that are so bittersweet and hard to quantify… I type with one hand. my 13 month old daughter asleep nursing in my lap and my eyes filled with tears. Thanks.

    Miss Shortcake September 18, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    beautiful and heartbreaking

    Her Bad Mother September 18, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Theresa – GAH. 10 months is so still a baby. It better be. ;)

    Kate September 18, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    You always know how to put such complicated feelings into words. LOVE this post. And what a great picture at the end. Says it all: the fleeting and whimsical moments of youth and you caught one at 1/60 of a second.

    Sue September 18, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Yes! Exactly!

    Anissa Mayhew September 18, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    My babies are 10, 7 and about to turn 5. I go through their pictures, hoping to recapture a bit of that baby and you’re so right, I miss it. I don’t know if my arms remember what they felt like those many months I nursed, but I do remember how my heart felt.

    Shannon September 19, 2008 at 12:55 am

    Well, I do see why you look at him and miss her – they look so much alike! You expressed this beautifully. Oh is he a gorgeous baby!

    Meems September 22, 2008 at 1:33 am

    So many of your posts bring tears to my eyes, this one especially. I love those little hands. I remember when my son who is now 10 years old started to loose the little dimples on his knuckles, I knew I was loosing my baby forever. Now that I have an almost 3 month old, I want him to stay little, but he defys me and grows every day.

    04kids September 22, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    A mother always remembers, no matter how many years go by, the laughing baby, the small determined toddler, the little boy with his backpack on his way to Beaver’s, the young man that loved soccer, and that is what makes it so painful when you see that child now grown when he is so ill, so consumed by addiction that his life is like a death every time you see him. You see through the ravaged face to the face of the little boy, those blue eyes that stared into yours, the once rounded body, so thin now it hurts to hug him, his blonde hair that once stood out like a halo on his head, now matted and dirty. Everyone else sees another dirty, homeless addict, and you see that newborn, that little boy, the young man, and his lost life, and your heart hurts each day, like a death that happens over and over. This is a mothers love and her memories that tie her child to her and keep the hope alive. Please pray for my son, to find that beautiful person inside that I see still.

    Issas Crazy World September 23, 2008 at 11:26 am

    Beautiful as always Catherine. Jasper and Emilia are both luck to have you.

    Funny, I look at the pictures and remember her at that age, because I think it was about the time I started reading. But two is still little. I think the second time around we enjoy each baby moment more, because we know how quickly it does pass. Now if mine would just be born, I could get on with the baby love.

    Pamela September 23, 2008 at 2:29 pm

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