Here's the funny thing about my kids: sometimes I complain about the duty of caring for small children, and while I'm doing that, they grow up with no warning and leave me at loose ends, scrambling to catch them. I've always been in Camp Pess-I-Mist when it comes to thinking about my chicks growing up and leaving the nest. Who am I kidding? I am a camp counselor. It's not that I want them to be dependent babies forever, but there is something to be said for a humid, sleeping breath exhaled into the hollow of your neck. I live for those moments, and yet I can't keep myself from ruining them by imagining their absence. I see Older Girl putting her own adult-sized hairbrush away in her own dresser drawer, and it occurs to me that I haven't thought of them as anything but babies since they were born.
How does it happen, this stealth growth? It happens overnight, but it also happens during hours of endless minutes of saying this too shall pass. It happens when I am focusing so intently on the troubles, the minutiae, the myriad hurdles, that I miss the jump that clears the bar. Maybe I am missing it because babyhood is so mutable, so fickle. If she likes the wiggly rattle this month, I know she will cast it aside in favor of a new toy next month. I've come to disregard the tastes, the fleeting fancies of a baby. I chart the physical milestones, I report the sitting and the walking at playgroups and parties, I know what size socks to buy, but sometimes I don't recognize the growth until I hear it echoed back to me. Size 10 dress? Wow, so tall already.
I see it the most in Older Girl, because she has changed so much this year. She's become a person who makes intentional puns, whispers wisecracks from the corners of her mouth, who showers alone, who prefers to wear her hair down in a headband instead of in a ponytail, thankyouverymuch. I eye her like a stranger who's come for a visit instead of the child who has spent a lifetime down the hall, or in the bed next to me. Our old familiarity is at times replaced by a polite distance. We are both trying to figure each other out - again.
The baby I pored over at three in the morning, is now freckled and long-limbed, with the hint of a future of shaving starting to emerge on her lower leg. When did her friends start calling to check the math assignment? When did she start playing Dvorak on the piano and answering Jeopardy questions? I was there for all of it, and somehow I still missed some of it.
I tend to feel badly about this short-sightedness, because sometimes it prevents me from enjoying the little moments that will never come again. It also prevents me from losing my mind when lack of sleep and crying babies push me toward the edge; that's not an altogether unwelcome side effect, to be honest.
For every little moments' death, another endearing moment follows. For every sleepy exhalation I've lost, I've gained a conversation about art, religion, music. For every wobbling step that has passed, a shuffle-ball-change has replaced it. Babyhood is sweet -sweeter than most any other time, I think - full of the spontaneous, effusive moments that make you sure you were meant to be a parent. And it is exhausting, to be sure. You are never more bone-weary, strung-out, or dazed with deprivation. You are sure that you were never meant to be a parent; all of this chaos is surely a sign that things have gone terribly awry. Then comes the day when your children buckle themselves into the car, and that yoke of physical exertion is lifted from your shoulders, only to be replaced by your worries for them as they leave you bit by bit.
I don't know where I'm going with all of this. As much as I hate change and the delicate balance it upsets, I know that without it I surely would have been hauled away by now. It's most assuredly a good thing that you can't step in the same river twice - it's what keeps you walking the fine line between parent and asylum resident - but that still doesn't stop me from watching the water flowing past with a little twinge of sadness.