(Just look at Leone (aka Lamby) and me at the National Geographic Museum yesterday. I'm not sure my mouth has ever looked so enormous, but whatever. A successful, happy selfie if ever there was one.)
I brought my sister and her wonderful family to the airport this morning. It was a teary goodbye made mercifully short by their need to hurry inside and check in. My parents waited for them in Louisiana, eager, as I was, to scoop Lamby up. It's Nanny's birthday today, too: she would have been 94. I miss her. My mom also misses her, and something about the newest generation going to spend time with the now-matriarch -on today of all days!- made me feel grateful and good. Simba heads south to complete the circle of life.
Lamby has colic and loves to eat, but when he's comfortable and fed, he is a delightful baby with whom I am besotted. I love my sister and her husband as well; they are great parents, and it's a joy to watch them in that role. You can tell that parenthood came to them at the right time. They'd lived life, settled oats, established themselves and then welcomed, with open arms, all the changes and challenges a baby brings.
On their second night here, after we'd enjoyed a marvelous meal and were all tucked in our respective beds, Tom turned to me with concern in his eyes and said, "Is this making you want a third child?"
"Heavens to Betsy, NO!" I nearly shouted back and with an assured immediacy that surprised even me. And I certainly didn't say, "Heavens to Betsy," but you get my drift.
I loooove babies. Love them. Love holding and nuzzling them, love degrading myself in any manner necessary to elicit their smiles. I love their coos and bleats, their purrs and whinnies. I love the urgency of their hunger cries and their dramatic tongue undulations and lip quivers when the milk doesn't come quickly enough; as if they will literally perish if you withhold the goods for one second more. I love watching them learn and study the world, and I love feeling them burrow into my chest and arms when sleep is a foregone conclusion.
Babies warm me from the inside out. They are so simply complex: meet their elemental needs, and you are rewarded with a front-row seat at an incredible cabaret. In that promise, though, lies enormous responsibility and commitment. A bargain that I happily made -twice!- but do not wish to make again. A contract I was lucky to have a say in and one I have never been so gratefully sure to have left behind as I am now.
Yesterday, Lamby stayed with me while El and Mic picked the boys up from school. It had been a busy day, what with baby visitors and a lengthy trip to the museum, and I was beat (not least because I'd been up since 3:30am for no good reason at all). El put Lamby on a playmat in front of the chair on which I perched, and I'm certain he'd have been content staying there and doing his own thing. But, I want to know him. I want him to know me. He is my nephew, and were anything ever to happen to my sister and Mic, I would raise Lamby as my own.
So I got down on the floor next to him and sang a ridiculous song. He beamed and flirted, and I did all manner of idiotic behavior to keep the smiles a'coming. We locked eyes, and lost in the depths of his I felt again the commitment and fierce love inherent in the responsibility of caring for a dependent child. I remember all the minutes, hours, days spent on the floor with my boys. In the library, playroom and mommy-and-me groups. I remembered the walks and the sleepless nights and the nursing and the boundless love. I remember feeling so happy and lucky to be a mother, but also feeling like my well was not limitless.
Lamby cooed again, and I knew, with utter certitude, that I did not, DO not, have one more round of that in me.
My mother-in-law visited on Tuesday, and my sister asked, "Did you have a favorite age or stage of your kids' development?"
Claire answered, "I loved them all, and you will too, but I was always ready to greet the next one."
I feel much the same way, and while I treasured my time with Lamby, I also felt an odd sort of relief. Relief that my days of endlessly tending a pre-verbal, immobile, eat-and-poop factory are behind me. Caring for newborns is like being sucked through a weird time machine. Whole days pass, and you haven't the slightest idea how you spent them. And you're cool with it. Until you're not. At least, I was, until I wasn't.
Wasn't came round about the time Oliver turned two. One night, the eve of this blog's birth, I declared that if I didn't have some time of my own to dedicate to something of my own, I simply might burst. Repeatedly, sometimes daily, since, I have felt tremendous gratitude for this space. It is endlessly restorative and educational. It has enabled me to document the miles I've traveled since its inception as well as all I've learned about myself on that journey.
My children ushered me into Em-i-lis, into writing my way through our world. Writing helps me process the ways in which being a mother meets and falls short of the expectations I had of it. It helps me vent and learn and better understand myself and my experiences in the weeds of Mom. I am a better mother because of writing, just as I am a better writer and person because I am a mother.
I can recognize and honor these truths not least because of choice. Because I could decide to have children when I was ready and choosenot to have more when that time came too. Having children and being an aunt has made me more pro-choice than ever. Raising a child is such an immense job, such an extraordinary role. If a woman doesn't want to have children or feels she simply cannot/doesn't want to have more, why on earth would we push to bring her child into the world?
I missed Lamby today, and I was thrilled to see my boys after school and pepper them with kisses and lasso them with hugs. What's left is for me. For my marriage and my life and all that lies ahead.