While I love spa gift certificates, shopping trips, and pedicures as much as the next woman (that is to say, a lot), this Mother's Day I'm looking forward to giving myself another kind of gift: one long, stretched-out day of doing nothing but noticing.
I think back to last winter, when I gave birth to my fourth son, Owen. One day, when he was about 1 1/2 months old, I saw an acquaintance with her new baby, a girl who was just two weeks younger than my son. But as is the case in those first couple of months, even that slight difference in age made a real difference in size, strength, and maturity. When I looked at her, I realized that Owen had also been slightly softer and floppier recently -- just a bit more innocent looking, smelling just a little bit newer.
Those early weeks go by impossibly fast for any mother. Whether your infant is growing at a record rate or bulking up at a more leisurely pace, soon that little being who hasn't done much more than gaze around blankly will suddenly greet you with a wide, pink smile and a Hey, there she is again! look of recognition. So in an effort to soak up Owen's babyhood, that night I snuggled him as he vacillated between asleep and awake -- fleeting smiles, half-closed eyes, lips sucking at a phantom nipple -- which was where he had spent most of his first week. I felt his newborn-ness slipping through my hands even as his tiny fist grasped my pinky and ring finger.
I remember looking at Jacob, my oldest son, when he was about a month old and getting the uncanny feeling that I was looking at myself: His face was as recognizable to me as my own. In those days, I was wholly consumed by the wonder and magnitude of being a mother, of having a child whose happiness, development, and very survival was in my hands. With no other kids to care for, with the work of diapering and feeding still novel, I always had the luxury of letting other things go. I had time to notice Jacob -- the way he was in this moment, and the next, and the next.
Many of the memories of my subsequent sons' early months are blurred, as though I'd photographed them with the wrong kind of film. As life has gone on -- with more kids, more mess, and more chaos -- it's harder to feel as completely melded with my children as I did in those early weeks of Jacob's life. Although I love them just as much, there's a lot that tends to get in the way. There are dishes to do, laundry to fold, and meetings to go to, and the world can't stop because this might be the last time my baby looks at me just like this or coos just like that. And it's not always easy to keep a record of those precious moments either.
I picked up my second son Isaac's baby book one day last summer, curious about what his first word had been. I could remember that he had talked early, but couldn't recall when, or just what it was he had said. Was it "Mama"? "Daddy"? "Ball"? I guess I'll never know, because to my dismay, only the first three pages of his book were filled out. Shell-shocked in my new role as a mom of two, I never made it past "first tooth." And my third son, William, doesn't even have a baby book. I kept meaning to get to it, and it seemed like I still had time -- until Owen came along.
Now I realize that, though William was a tiny baby only two years ago, the memories of his babyhood are so blurred that I couldn't possibly remember enough to fill out a baby book for him. I've already forgotten his first word, and am not absolutely sure when he took his first toddling steps. And even when I can remember the general facts, I can't quite conjure up the specifics of the memory. For instance, I recollect that William loved avocados, but can't recall the way his chubby fist looked when he scooped it up off the high chair tray, or his expression when he got it to his mouth.
As a mother's life becomes fuller and busier, we start to think that the gift we need the most is a day off from motherhood. And of course, we all need to escape responsibility once in a while. But this year, I don't want to take a break from being a mother. I want a break from the endless chores of everyday life that distract me from being a mom and fully enjoying my sons' exuberant company. So I'm not going to schedule any appointments, and I'm putting the minutiae -- the bills, the after-meal cleanup, the laundry -- on "pause" so that I can really focus on what's special about each of my kids as they are right now. I want to see the sparkle in my oldest son's eyes as he tells a story and the exact shape of my second son's dimpled cheeks. I want to feel the weight of my 2-year-old's head on my shoulder and the soft warmth of my baby's skin.
Even if I can't lock these experiences into my memory forever, I want to focus on them all because no matter how hard I try, I probably won't get the details right later on. Maybe my older sons' faces will blend together or my baby will look balder in my mind's eye. Perhaps I won't be able to clearly recall my toddler's voice. But what I'll never forget is that on this one day, I noticed every part of them, every moment as it happened. And that'll be enough.
Meagan Francis writes about raising four sons at momwithmore.blogspot.com.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2006.