Our neighbors just had a baby. I can hear him downstairs crying like a cat mews – that frantic, breathless song. It brings me back to almost four years ago when Addie chirped and mewed, cooed and gurgled, clucked and purred. Oh how I miss those baby sounds.
Addie was a good baby, only crying for the usual infant complaints – wet, hungry, need mama. I could calm her in an instant, a nurse, a pat, just knowing I was there. Like a magic wand, poof- all was right in her world. The crying would stop and never lasted long.
She’s always been her mama’s girl. We have been each other’s world for four years in a way that no one else has. Without preschool or playdates, she’s been my cooking partner, my cleaning pal, my grocery shoppin’ buddy, the Lavern to my Shirley.
A couple days ago my good friend Meeps had a small gathering at her home. While the adults dined and drank, seven kiddos yielded swords in pirate fights, held one another captive, jumped on the bed, played in the dirt, roasted marshmallows in a fiery pit, played dolls and trucks, swung and giggled, and screamed in the delightful ecstasy of childhood.
This was the first time Addie truly left my side, never checking in or glancing to see if Mommy was there. At one point when the bigger kids were in the front yard, I ran into the house to make sure she hadn’t wandered into the street. She was in the hallway watching someone do something absolutely hysterical. It was obvious when I peered around the corner that I had suddenly become an intruder. This baby who nursed all day, who walked through the house attached to my leg, who slept on me, rode my back when scrubbing the floors, this child who wouldn’t dream of letting me shower or use the bathroom alone said upon spying me, “Go away Mommy. We’re having fun.” And boy did she mean it with a furled brow and hands on her hip. I looked at the other kids like, “Really, I should go?” And they gave me the pathetic gaze that children give all superfluous parents. It’s the “don’t let the door hit you in the ass” look.
As I left the hall, a tiny thrill rose up in me. She was a big kid. She had successfully made the leap from baby to child. I’d done my job, giving her the confidence to join the kiddo pack, to have a good time without me. I was so happy that she wasn’t the outcast, the wallflower, the baby, the ignored. This child who had never been in a mommy-and-me class, or preschool, had graduated from one-on-one, to “the clan”. Wow.
As I joined the adults, my joy began to fizzle and I reached for another glass of wine. My baby, my baby, my baby who came out of me, my baby who I could magically calm with one hand on her belly told me flatly to “get out.” It was a strange and sober giddiness. I giggled and had tears well up at the same time. And I realized that being a mother is having the sensation of being invited and rejected simultaneously. It’s the person you love more than any other saying “I need you…now get lost.”
What a bizarre and rapid progression we experience as mothers. First they are in our bodies, living only because we are alive, breathing only because we breathe. And they leave us physically but still cling, still need to be close, still eat and exist because we exist. Their coos become syllables, their cries become harder to calm. The parameter stretches, the magic wand loses power, the wizard behind the apron is suddenly just a crazy and needy broad interrupting a child’s joke in a hallway.
I got what I wanted, to sit at a party with the adults and have a real conversation. To have an evening where I wasn’t chasing a toddler around making sure all poisons and small objects were out of reach. I’d gotten what I craved for four years, to just chill and have a good time with friends. And yet, like it usually is in life, when you get what you always wanted, you miss what you had before.
Addie laughed and squealed, she guffawed and teased, cackled and screeched. She settled with grace and joy into the role of big kid. And her mother, sipping Macedonian wine, trying to follow the flow of adult conversation, could only concentrate on the sounds of my girl, my big girl, who like the tide and the moon will always dance that desperate dance of reaching out and falling back, pulling close and pushing away. It’s only natural.
As I write these last words I hear my newest neighbor reaching out to his mother with a needy cry and I know that while my evening is ending, hers is just beginning. I’m sure if she could trade places with me right now she would, if only to have a good night’s rest. But I know the truth. One day she’ll look back on this night of sleeplessness and sore nipples and realize that it was, like all things sacred and fleeting – something to be missed.