When you are sound asleep in the dark, dead weight in my arms, I can still see the shadows of the womb in your face, still make out the newborn stranger they wrapped in a hospital blanket and placed in my arms just one year ago. But looking at a true newborn yesterday, I realize how big you are now. No more little grunts and mewing cries. No more voracious nursing all day and all night. No more lying still wherever I set you down. Now you know me and your smile and open-mouthed slobbery kisses are the overflow of your own affection. You sit and take in all that your brother and sister are doing, anxious to join them, while I would keep you little a little longer.
I have been a mother only four years, and you are my third baby to turn one. Every time, it's so bittersweet. And this is what I have learned of motherhood--it is an unending cycle of grieving and receiving. I grieve for the tiny baby who is no more, but I receive you as you are now, at this new stage. I fold tiny clothes you will never wear again and grieve. I watch you attempt a first step and I receive. Breastfeeding ends. I grieve that we will no longer have that precious bond. But I receive (hopefully more sleep) and the joy of sharing with my little boy new foods that he will enjoy. I grieve the missed naps on my chest when you could shut out all the world and just snuggle into me. I receive this you who can listen to a book or giggle at a song.
I watch your brother and sister grow. The special toy that they forget, I stop to mourn, for that little part of them has passed on, replaced by this new and different child who doesn't have to hold Duckie to go to sleep or doesn't need to be rocked for one more song. But I receive a four-year-old's deep questions and a two-year-old's budding conversational skills. Now there are things that I can teach you, books that I can read to you, activities I can do with you, that before we could not yet do.
I grieve, too, the time lost because I was distracted, or selfish, or tired--definitely tired. I grieve the ways I fail daily as a mother. Yet I can't stay there, because each day I am still receiving a new day, a new opportunity. I receive this you and all that God would teach me of Himself through this season.
Someday the dolls will be packed away. Someday there won't be any more toy trains or Curious George books or holding-onto-the-stroller for a walk. Just as infancy passes away, I know that someday your childhood will, too. but you will always be my child; so as much as I will grieve for the child you were, I will receive the adult you have become.
I wonder if parenting changes the parents even more than the child. Of course, you are growing, learning, changing so constantly and yet imperceptibly every day. But I am growing, learning, and changing, too, constantly stretching to be the mother you need now. Forever cherishing the person you were, and yet embracing the person you are. Others will know and love you at one stage or another, but I will know and love you every day of your life, at every stage, receiving each day who you are now.