Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Last-Born Baby

I keep thinking about Livie when she was a baby. 

In part, I'm stuck in this loop because I've been reading a book about two mothers and their bleary, besotted first months of motherhood. (The Hand that First Held Mine is the title, and its definitely worth reading if heart-breaking novels are your thing.)

The other reason, I assume, is that my last-born baby is turning five and going to kindergarten in six weeks.

I told my best friend about a year ago that when the fateful week comes, she is either going to have to check me into a mental hospital or take me to a spa, such will be the catastrophic significance of these two milestones. And I was serious, but only in the way that a celebrity new mom in a television interview is serious when she talks about what it's like to be a mother. It was spin. It was the light, marketed version of my mother-emotion. 

In reality, as it's coming upon me, I am devastated. A whole part of my life is over, and a whole part of hers. Thank God Livie doesn't know that these are the last six weeks of her life when she won't have to be somewhere first thing in the morning unless she's on vacation. Or until she's the stay-at-home mother of pre-school-age children. Thank God we don't feel the milestones as we pass them as children. That joy and grief is given to Mothers. 

I remember and yet do not remember Livie as a baby. I remember the feeling that this time, I kind of knew what I was doing, and the having the realization that whatever I did for my second born would seem right to her. I was her mother, and she knew none other. I remember stroking her furry infant ears, and tracing the arch of her tiny foot with my finger. I remember that unlike her sister she didn't enjoy being sung to; her body would tense rather than relax if I sung a lullabye. So I remember Livie and I being silent a lot together. I remember nuzzling the top of her head, and I can almost remember what she smelled like. 

She's such a wonder to me, this second daughter. It amazes me that I've had two girls and they are not the same person, that somehow Jeff and I were able to create two whole human beings that are people in their own right. And she just keeps getting bigger, changing, surprising me. That mellow, quiet baby who murmured herself to sleep is now the little clown of our family, making funny faces and saying potty words at dinner -- which I should discipline her for but instead go giggle into a pile of unfolded clothes in the laundry room. 

She is swimming, going down waterslides, and still occassionally refusing to go in bounce houses. She is coloring voraciously (she holds a crayon in her fist, not the right way). She is putting on her own clothes and shoes and brushing her teeth. But she still sucks her thumb. She likes to be carried. In my bed in the morning, she's a fierce snuggler, and if I turn my back to her she wails, "I want to see your face!"

I'm looking forward to half days, five days a week, when I can go the gym, have coffee with friends, push a cart through the grocery store alone. And yet I dread it! What if I sob when I see the vulnerable little nape of her neck under her blond bob disappear into the classroom? What if I was wrong and she's not ready? What if her moving away from me is as traumatic a life change as when she arrived in the world? 

There's no pithy resolution coming to the end of this entry, friends and readers. I just needed to weep and put these feelings down in 12-point type. I won't tell Livie, or even let her see it in my eyes that I'm mourning the end of this era: 8 and a half years of having a child at home with me full-time. I'll just keep nuzzling her head, teaching her to hold the pencil the right way, and buy her first-day-of school clothes with a smile on my face. And when I tell her she's still my baby and she responds, "Mommy, I'm not a baby, I'm a big girl now," I'll just say, "I know you are, baby. I know you are."

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