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The Path Twice Taken


It’s been almost seven years since the Big Guy wheeled me to the door of the hospital and went to get the car.  With a carefully swaddled bundle in my arms, I waited, but we weren’t alone.  The hospital staff was watching over us, but I had another more trustworthy companion waiting on me and the newest member of the family.  

Only three days earlier, when I’d looked at Jack, my then tow-headed boy, I has still seen the baby I had nursed and cuddled.  As he stood beside me, however, hovering over his new brother and checking to make sure I wasn’t getting too much draft, I realized he was firmly into the next phase.  Only then, as I sat near the hospital entrance, glancing at my new baby and then at my very protective and increasingly capable first born did it hit me that we were about to start the journey of taking a completely dependent life form from diapers to door-holding all over again.

It was a journey full of phases.  Some were longer and more arduous than others, but we loved every one of them.  I loved the nursing (once we got the hang of it) and the toothless smile.  I loved the tiny arms that wrapped around my neck, and I was already loving watching him discover the world outside our yard.

This would be the last time I traveled this path.  I was still fairly busy negotiating the next steps with Jack.  At the back of my brain, however, I made a promise to myself to not let the confidence gained over the last six years of parenting translate into indifference to the joy that the upcoming phases with Thing2 would bring.  

Trying to keep that promise has been challenging when we’re busy or swamped with bills.  For the most part both, though, the Big Guy and I have been lucky enough to see and mark the special moments.  We’ve seen the first smile and step, and we’ve been treated to the antics and theatrics.  And we’ve both repeatedly commented that it’s all going too fast.

A few weeks ago I went to a family reunion.  Cousins and cousins-once-removed all brought children to the event.  The ages ran the gamut from nine months to 19 years old.  Some of the cousins met for the first time that weekend, but any shyness was trampled under the feet of toddlers chasing teenagers around the yard.  

The nine-month-old belonged to the daughter of one of my cousins and was the perfect age for the grown ups to play with.  The child’s aunts and grandparents and cousins were only too happy to hold and cuddle her so that the young mother could take a break.   

On the last night of the reunion, the youngest cousin was hungry and fussy after a day of sight-seeing, and, when her mother went to fetch a bottle, I offered to help.

“Will she come to me?” I asked hopefully.  The ten-year-old holding her was looking less enchanted as her whimpers threatened to escalate, and he nodded at me.  I scooped the baby out of his arms, settling her into mine and began to rock on my feet, mentally traveling that time when I was able to solve all my boys’ problems with milk and a snuggle.  

She settled somewhat.  Her mom handed me the bottle.  She sucked the nipple into her mouth and began to drink.  Her eyes became slits, occasionally widening to make sure I was still holding the bottle, until, sated, she gave into sleep.  For a brief minute, I thought, I would love to do this all over again.

As if on cue, Thing2 emerged from the basement where the older children were watching movies.  He watched me with the baby for a minute before wrapping his arms around my waist.  At first I thought he might be jealous or having memories of that era when he rarely left my arms.  Then he looked up at me.

“Mom, can I help with the baby?” he asked.  I looked down at him.  In that moment, I took another time trip, but this time it was to that moment in the hospital lobby.  Thing2, a superhero who always rescues me from my darker thoughts, now helped me mark a new special moment where I noticed he has slipped out of the baby/little kid phase and become part of a wider world, and I smiled at him.

“No, thanks, Buddy,” I answered and asked him if he could announce to the downstairs that it was time for the big kids to eat.  He smiled, instantly forgetting the sleeping baby two feet away as he ran to the basement door and shouted to the other kids to wash hands.  I handed the somehow still-sleeping baby back to her mother and went to get a plate together for my fussier eater and continue our journey.