it happened again.

Oscar and i were at the pharmacy this afternoon, picking up some things we didn’t really need while my weary brain defiantly blocked all memory of the baby wipes we’d actually come out to purchase, when a sweet, blue-haired lady sidled up to the carriage and peered in.

“how old is he?” she cooed.

“three months,” i answered, hardly believing it myself. and then i added, because i could see the comment coming anyway, “it goes awfully fast.”

“oh, it does indeed!” she chirped. “before you know it, he’ll be off at college. enjoy every moment.” she smiled at me in a knowing way and took one last peek at O, breathing him in.
i watched her walk away down the aisle, and i stood there frozen for a minute, forgetting not only the baby wipes, but where i was. i had tears in my eyes, but they weren’t quite the tears of sentimental motherliness that the lady had likely been aiming for. they were tears of guilt, and frustration, and great sadness.

i love him dearly. and i did nearly melt down in motherly heartbreak the first time he outgrew a tiny preemie outfit, and i’m amazed by how big he is now, and sad in that beautiful, bittersweet way about the fact that every day that passes is one we can never get back. but enjoy every moment? the ones where he’s been crying for five hours and his little throat is raw? the ones where it’s three am and i’m stunned with exhaustion and seriously fear that i will never sleep again? the ones where i’m trying to shush him to sleep for the seventh time in a row and i hear my voice get shrill and i say “why can’t you just sleep, child?” in a tone i don’t mean and don’t want and don’t like. i can’t. i can’t enjoy every moment. and sometimes i feel like a failure because of it, because of the constant reminder from well-meaning souls out there that someday he’ll be big and gone and i will never have him to snuggle again.

one of the saddest things about life, i think, is that the capacity to be fully present in the moments we want to be present in sometimes escapes us. i want to take joy in Oscar’s daily growth, and most of the time i do. but sometimes i lust for sleep like a junkie in withdrawal, and sometimes i fixate on the piles of dirty laundry and can’t really get totally focused on my sixth chorus of “Mama’s Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird.” and sometimes i really wonder if i can do this at all, and if it’s fair to him that he got such an anal, impatient person for a mother…no matter how i try to improve myself.

i don’t know the answer to that question. i do know that the moments i’m asking it aren’t ones i’m enjoying, much.

those come, though. i spent an hour nursing him in the middle of the night last night, and in the almost-dark of the nightlight his downy hair glinted in soft spikes all over his head. and i nuzzled him, and smelled him, and allowed myself to really feel the weight of him in my arms and the heat of his small body curled into mine. and i felt complete, and present, and full of grace.

then i fell asleep on him, and woke in a sweaty, milky tangle with him breathing his baby-snore rhythm beside me. and that sticky, groggy puddle of us, i cherished that too: the reminder of our visceral human-ness. and i cherished it in part because i know, no matter how long these night wakings seem now, that someday they’ll be far in the past and i’ll miss that feel of my baby boy in my arms. i know that. i know that even when those same arms ache to put his kicking, thirteen-pound self down.

and i know that forty years from now, i’ll probably be accosting new mothers in the Shoppers Drug Mart and telling them to enjoy their babies, because it goes so fast. not because i actually expect them to enjoy every moment – i hope i remember to explain that. nobody enjoys everything. nobody remembers everything. and they shouldn’t try…i shouldn’t. i know. but the outside reminder that this wild, exhausting, heart-rending period is also precious and finite is helpful sometimes.

thanks, blue-haired lady. next time, why don’t you offer to babysit so i can nap and you can enjoy him too?