Sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid foods, crawling, talking, walking, potty-training, riding a bike, tying shoes, starting school… we move through our children’s childhood with eyes forward. Some parents with more vigor and ambitious competitiveness than others. We look ahead to the next stage, achievement, or development. Being forward-thinking is positive except when it causes us to lose sight of the present.
Yesterday, I sat in my 1.5-year-old’s darkened bedroom rocking and nursing him before his nap, just as I have every day for the last 19 months. In the dark quiet I began lamenting my lack of freedom, my breastmilk tether. To be able to go out to lunch, volunteer at my older children’s schools, exercise, or go to appointments without navigating naptime, which doesn’t exist without a pre-snooze nursing session, seemed lovely. To be able to go out with my husband or friends and not worry about getting home to nurse my littlest before bed seemed refreshing. To not have to remain home after my littlest’s bedtime in case he awakes, as only nursing can return him to slumber, seemed freeing. The longing for freedom was overwhelming. I craved the next stage.
I began contemplating when to wean to a bottle or sippy cup, at least for naptime. It was new territory. I’d worked part-time from 4 months postpartum with my first child until my first trimester with my third child, so my eldest two children learned early on how to find sleep without the breast. My littlest, though, never needed to welcome rest in any other way but in my arms. I chided myself for not introducing a nursing-free naptime sooner. What had I been thinking?
Then, my toddler placed a sweaty, sleepy hand on my cheek. I looked down at his blissful nursing state and realized that soon this season would be over. He will not nurse forever. He will not always need or want me to cuddle him in his dim bedroom each day and night before sleep. He will not always look to me for nourishment and comfort. “You’ll have your whole life to be free,” I thought to myself. “Savor the present.”
Like the tween sneaking into an R-rated movie or the teenager preening to look older, I was wishing away my present. I was being impatient with a fleeting precious stage in the hopes of reaching the next phase sooner. But getting there sooner doesn’t mean a thing since arrival is an eventuality. If anything it cheapens the journey and is fodder for regret.
And so, as I lie here now on the playroom sofa at far-too-early-in-the-morning after 2 hours of sleep and reading many baby storybooks by the light of “Max and Ruby” due to toddler insomnia, I feel his finally-asleep weight on me and I smile. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to delve into the Monday routine with 3 kids 5 and under, but it’s worth it.
These hardships, these swift sweet moments, these gems amidst the craggy rocks are what parenthood is all about. If we keep our eyes forward we miss the beautiful details of the present and there’s no getting them back.
We will get to that next stage eventually. No need to rush it. Just enjoy the ride.