There is that moment when you realize they are no longer you.
Before, you are entangled as one. Arms and legs and bellies together as one. You, mama, are also the baby. At first, literally, with your baby nestled safely inside of you, and then later, when you are the baby’s entire world. You and your baby, attached—at the hip or the arm or the shoulder, in a snuggle or a carrier or a nap. You know each cry, and you know all the ways in which you are the answers to those cries: Milk. Snuggles. Sleep. Silly faces. Mama voices. Together. Exhausting and exhilarating, this oneness. But you take it for granted, this weaving of two people into a unit.
Until one day, you catch her playing, really playing, with a friend, and you realize you have no idea what they are talking about. Until one day, he cries so loudly and for so long, and you are not the answer. Until one day, you hear them together, laughing and “reading” books and talking and happy by themselves, not looking for you or crying for you or climbing on you. They have inner lives that are entirely their own–and you realize then, they are no longer you, and you are no longer one.
These babies, they grow into people. So fast.
Her, afraid of the ocean. Him, a reckless daredevil. Her, doting on the big kids. Him, flirting with anyone who glances his way. Her, lover of milk. Him, a tv-head. Her, a wall-artist. Him, a food-thrower.
Sometimes, you are just amazed at what they can do and you cannot: speaking in two languages, climbing onto rooftops, floating securely between mama and papa, adapting so easily to an ever-changing world. And sometimes, you feel that mama urge to save them from themselves, like when she adoringly follows around a bad-choice friend, or when he climbs on top of the rocking horse to rock, standing up.
But they are their own people now. You know this when you watch them sleep, and their eyes flutter under lids with dreams you’ll never know. And so now, your job is not to be the answer, but to usher, to be the midwife to the people that are everyday being born in your care.
Lucky for us, though, we mark each other, mamas and babies. There are pieces of them, their cells, floating in us.Who knows why—to help, to harm, to hang on to the magic of that fleeting moment of oneness—but there is a comfort in knowing that our babies, they are always us. We are forever changed by these babies, not just in the clichéd ways of parenting-changes-you speeches but down to our very cells. And you, you are there in them, too. In her crooked little smile and the way she sings herself through the day. And him, in the shape of his eyes and the squeezing hugs he saves for the Monchichi doll. They might be their own people, but lucky for us, we mark each other, mamas and babies.
And the bigger they get and the more people-y they become, the more you see the marks of others, too. Her, with her grandmother’s profile. Him, with his grandfather’s smile. Her, with your grandmother’s dance moves. Him, with your grandfather’s pitching arm. You love all these pieces of your loved ones in your little ones—but it is hard, too, not to jealously guard the oneness that was once you and your babies. To wish that smile was just a little more yours, to wish their baby pictures looked a little more like yours, to be just a little more visible—because then maybe, just maybe, the bittersweetness of their becoming would make your heart ache just a little less for the memories of that oneness. For the babies that your children once were. Your babies, who have become people: funny, complicated, loving, physical, mysterious, big-hearted people. Lucky, lucky you.
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While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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