среда, 4 января 2012 г.

Growing Pains

By Kim Ehlert

As a parent you try to maintain a certain amount of control and so you have this tug-of-war... You have to learn when to let go. And that's not easy.
~Aretha Franklin

Today, Ryan and I are on a mission. We have just arrived at the baby mega store. I unbuckle the straps from Ryan's seat and lift his squirmy body from the car. Side by side, we begin a slow, meandering walk from the car to the store as Ryan stops to inspect every rock and sidewalk crack along the way. Today, we are in search of a potty, the one item that we have not yet purchased after two years of frequenting this popular retail establishment. Ryan has recently displayed some interest in potty-related matters, and I intend to take advantage of this apparent window of opportunity.

Once we are inside the store, I lift him into the shopping cart. He holds his half of the smoothie we are sharing in one hand and a bag of Goldfish in the other. While he settles himself and his snacks in the seat, I sneak a long look at him, knowing he will soon grow impatient and command me to get moving. I notice his pants are hiked up above his socks, and his wrists are peeking out from the cuffs of his long-sleeved shirt. He is growing again. It is time for new clothes -- again. Since we are already here, I take a detour to the clothing section. As we approach the adorable shorts and T-shirts hanging loftily from miniature hangers, my eyes begin to skim the racks. I scan them quickly -- 0-6 months, 6-12 months, 12-18 months -- and then I stop, feeling foolish. This is a baby store. These clothes are for babies. Ryan, who is now over two years old, is not a baby. My head knows this, but it takes my heart a while to catch up.

I pause to wait for it -- there -- the tidal wave that crashes over me. My breath catches in the back of my throat, and my heart gives a familiar squeeze. I stop the cart and wait patiently for the sensations to pass. No need to panic. It's just another episode of motherhood growing pain: his growing, my pain.

Since becoming a mother, I have been surprised by many things. One of them is this: The biggest moments are actually the small ones, the ones that sneak up on you, arrive unexpectedly, and stop you in your tracks. The big milestones, such as giving birth, first steps, and birthdays, are important, too. But what I hold most dear are those tiny moments, bright seconds in time flung together to shape the constellation of motherhood.

I remember so clearly the first of those moments. It was several days after Ryan's birth. After numbly kissing my husband goodbye as he left for work, I headed upstairs with Ryan to change his diaper. As we entered his room, we were greeted by the happy colors and whimsical dancing stars on the walls, bright with early morning sunshine. The room still felt new. Bookshelves were neatly arranged with matching, brightly colored baskets and stiff-spined books. The dresser was orderly, containing carefully folded newborn clothes and tiny diapers. The sweet smell of Dreft detergent lingered in the air.

"Good morning, Peanut," I cooed as I gently lowered Ryan onto the changing pad. I knew from the baby books I had been diligently reading that his eyesight wasn't well-developed yet. But the bright alertness and curiosity in his eyes convinced me he was carefully studying my face and features. I unsnapped his onesie and tenderly placed a hand on his belly as I reached for a diaper. His arms and legs flailed about, a windmill of extremities over which he had not yet mastered control.

With a start, I noticed the small, dark stump of his umbilical cord had fallen off. It had been cast aside to reveal a tiny belly button underneath, a perfect "O" of surprise, fleshy and pink. I leaned forward to place a kiss there, pleased with the newly revealed landscape on his small body to explore. Suddenly, I burst into tears. The clear, salty drops made their way down my face, hesitated slightly on my quivering chin, then fell and pooled delicately into that new crevice on his body.

Had anyone else been there, I could have used any number of excuses for my bizarre behavior: hormones, fatigue, sleep deprivation. But I knew it was none of those things, and I was grateful to be having that odd moment in private.

Bewildered, I gathered my son in my arms and sought the solace of the rocking chair nearby. As I rocked with him, my mind retreated to examine my recent unexpected burst of emotion. The event was a normal rite of passage for a newborn. I should have felt relief. But, instead, a cold sorrow took hold of my heart.

I thought about that perfect belly button, closed and sealed off to the world. I remembered how that place used to connect him to me. Through that connection, I was able to provide for him, nourish him, and protect him. It ground him to me, made him a part of me. Then, mere minutes after his birth, a flash of cold metal severed the cord and he was set free, a task that had been joyfully delegated to my husband by the nurse and doctor. No one had asked me if I was ready, if I was prepared to let go. The physical connection between my son and me was broken. He became his own living being, a separate person, his own person.

My eyes welled up again as a new and unfamiliar pain formed inside my gut, a hurt so visceral that I could not identify the exact source. Slowly, the thought came to me: He is leaving me. Only days old, and he is already leaving me. He will always be leaving me. My first motherhood growing pain.

In the aisle of the baby store, I lean on the cart and wait patiently for the pressure in my chest to subside. Soon, I am able to take a deep breath, collect my thoughts, and move on, back on track to the potty aisle.

After two years, I have become more accustomed to these heartbreaking moments of motherhood. They still hurt and take my breath away, but I am not blindsided the way I was with the first one. Although often unexpected, when it occurs I can identify that pang, stop and briefly feel the pain, then move on. Some moments are filled with sadness and longing, but others contain great pride and joy.

I finally locate the potty aisle, release Ryan from the shopping cart, and allow him to examine the selection. After careful deliberation, he decides on the Elmo potty. He appears to be quite pleased with his choice as he chatters to Elmo and Big Bird on the box on the way to the checkout counter. After I make the purchase, Ryan reaches up to me with a free hand and leads us to the store exit. Silently, I say goodbye to the baby store as we leave. The doors close softly behind us as we step out into the warm sunlight of the late spring afternoon.


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