I’m not really one of those “savor every moment” type of people, or parents for that matter. I honestly think it can be a dangerous road to walk because if you truly live to cherish each day and each day alone, you’ll end up poor, overweight, and very spoiled. My bank account has to last, so I can’t just buy those concert tickets because “you only live once!” My body has to last, so I can’t just eat the richest, most delicious foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My patience has to last, so I can’t just say yes, yes, yes because eventually someone will ask a question that deserves a no, but it’ll be too late for me to change course. No. Some moments require restraint, sacrifice, and to be completely forgotten.
So you can imagine my surprise when, the other night, as I was solo three baby bathing, an odd thing happened. The girl, the boy, and the baby were doing their usual: screaming at the sight of soap, fighting over one toy while a million more floated around them, telling elaborate stories of planes overhead and ships by their sides, attempting to remove every drop of water from the probably too-full tub, and just generally being four, three, and almost two years old. They’re very good at acting their age and forcing me to forget mine. My body feels a hundred years older while my mouth spits out the words of a much less wise lady.
Usually The Man washes the babes because my ever-expanding belly carrying the newby makes crouching by the tub painful. But he was working…lucky for him. So I knelt by my naked lot and said my prayers for a speedy, sudsy preamble to sleep. Then, I noticed something…
My hands. My hands on the baby’s chubby shoulders, and if you don’t think shoulders can be chubby, I dare you to find a more fitting word for the meaty tops of his arms.
I let the soapy water wash over him and watched his sweet nose scrunch up at the sensation. I glanced at the top hat of bubbles the girl had carefully placed on the boy’s head. I noticed their knees, their elbows, their wrists, and their ankles. I scrubbed the sweat from endless play off of their backs and tried not to push too hard on those bellies I had filled not two hours earlier through bribery and my best culinary efforts. I washed their tiny, important hands, tops and bottoms. I tickled their small, strong feet, tops and bottoms. Armpits, behind the ears, between the fingers, and each innocent strand of hair: no spot on those three babies was safe from my cleansing.
And it hit me: this chore would be one of the first to go. My days of washing these children and knowing them this intimately would soon be lost forever. Something innocent and precious, albeit loud and oddly messy, would never be mine again.
I birthed them. I watched them, literally with a mirror, come into this world, gross and perfect. I’ve seen every bruise, bump, bite, blush, and birthmark ever since. I know them completely in a way that only someone who tests the water twice before throwing them in the tub can.
But soon our tub time will be their shower time. Soon they won’t want mommy to look what I can do! Soon the bathroom door will be closed…and then locked. Soon they’ll grow, and it’ll be away from me. It’ll happen before they share real secrets with best friends, before they leave for overnight trips to faraway places, before they go to college, before they fudge the truth, before they tell me what I want to hear, before they get married, before someone else of their choosing learns that the freckle on her hip isn’t a stubborn bit of dirt and the shade of his knees stays consistent despite the seasons and the color of his skin is natural perfection.
I’m losing these kids. Each day is one day closer to not having them around anymore. Every time the clock ticks, we’re headed to a world where I have to call before I come over and ask permission to talk about religion, politics, finances, and romance. I don’t like that world, but it’s where we have to go. In fact, it’s where we all – parents and children alike – want to go. How crazy is that? How unfair? How exciting?
Like every other important debate, the balance between living and having a life is about moderation and perspective. You can’t love every moment. It’s exhausting, unfair to you, and smothering to them. You can, however, remember that in the middle of the chaos, there are these rare and fleeting privileges that you’re given that no one else in the entire world has. How absolutely spectacular!
You are the goodnight kiss (or kisses if you have a refuses-to-sleeper).
You are the good morning (often too early).
You are the one who decides where every morsel comes from and where every step is taken.
It’s a weight to bear but quite an awesome and rare opportunity. You are believed in, hoped for, trusted, and loved. You’re their everything for such a brief time because bit by bit you hand their lives over to them, and then they share those lives with others (hopefully not any hoes or any guy in a band) until they might decide to be everything to a tiny person of their own.
As for the unfortunate stretches when The Man is still at work, and all three are crying again and again and again. I haven’t showered in days or slept through the night in years. I haven’t spoken to an adult. I haven’t checked a single item off of a list. No one has said a kind word in my direction, and some brand new problem inevitably pops up. Those days can suck it. Wipe themselves from my memory. Disappear into the void, and never, ever return. I will not cherish those moments. I’m okay with that and encourage it for you as well, dear reader.
But maybe I’ll miss three baby bath nights or the jumbled morning routine or the pressure of mealtimes. Because these days are numbered. Although I look forward to the night I can soak in a tub by candlelight while the girl, the boy, the baby, and the newby get themselves off to their own beds in their own houses, I know the thoughts of wondering what they did, who they were with, where they went, how they’re feeling, when I’ll see them, and why they haven’t called will cover me up more than the bubbles in my bath will.