When you welcome a new child into the world, the “firsts” are always on your mind. You carefully document each new experience and milestone. There are first smiles, first steps, first bites of solid food, and first words. Baby books come with ample spaces to record these events. Facebook and Instagram allow you to share these milestones with friends and family across the globe. As it happens, each first is big, noteworthy, and exciting. It signifies a new land of endless possibilities. But eventually, over time, all of these noteworthy firsts blend seamlessly into the tapestry of your life until they morph into just another unremarkable detail of your daily routine.
And then before you know it, the firsts stop happening regularly because your child has covered so many of the basic fundamentals. It is in this moment, when you leave the land of the rapid-firing firsts, that you begin your much less lauded and perhaps even sorrowful journey into the land of the lasts. People don’t talk about the lasts often, but those of us who cling tightly to each fleeting stage our children walk through warily acknowledge their passing.
The problem with the lasts, of course, is that, unlike the firsts, you’re never really sure when they are happening. You don’t know when you rock that precious baby to sleep and lay him in his bed that that will be the last time he’ll drift off to sleep in your arms. You don’t know when you take that last diaper off and hastily throw it away that it will be the last time you ever change one of your children’s diapers. You don’t know when you reluctantly sit down to have yet another tea party with your daughter that it will be the last time she ever extends to you an invitation to join her for tea. As you go about your day, you will likely think that these kinds of activities will continue into perpetuity. And then one day, you’ll look back, missing that particular aspect of your past, and wonder when—when exactly—it stopped happening.
If you’re like me, you’ll desperately scan your memory, searching feverishly for a recollection of the last time you rocked that baby, changed that diaper, or pretended to sip, with pinkies up, from that tiny tea cup. You will wonder if you enjoyed it. If you were really fully present for that moment as you would have been had you known—which of course you didn’t—that it would be your last time. You will want to kick yourself as you come to the inevitable realization that no, you probably didn’t give that seemingly ordinary moment the attention and recognition it so richly deserved. And you will wish, with the entirety of your aching mama heart, that you could go back to that moment and capture it either with a picture or a video or just the lasting memory that your heart is seeking now. But the problem with the lasts is that they will elude you, and once they have escaped, there is no way to bring them back.
As a mom of two children transitioning out of the infant and toddler stages, I am really struggling with these lasts. One day, sooner than I think, the pitter-patter of little feet and the incessant chatter of little mouths will not surround me in my bathroom each morning as I rush to get ready. And as I put on my makeup in the complete uninterrupted silence that I so desperately wish for now, I will miss that noise. One day my son will not insist on holding my hand as we walk through the hallways of my house. And as I walk briskly from room to room without having to stop to steady him or pick up a toy truck along the way, I will miss our meandering trips around the house. One night after the kids go down, there won’t be piles of laundry waiting to be folded, mountains of toys to be put away, or two empty lunch boxes waiting to be filled, and as hard as it is for me to believe now, I will probably miss those chores, too.
I’ve tried to hold onto life’s little memories in every way I know how. I’ve filled up my phone and several computers with endless images of every.single.day of my children’s lives. I’ve dutifully documented the highlights (or lowlights, as is often the case) of my day with them in my five-year journal. I’ve filled up an Instagram account with pictures and short anecdotes in the hope that I will never forget these particular moments in time. I’ve clung to these days as best I know how, and yet, I’ve learned that once they are gone, despite my best efforts to capture them and hold them tightly in the clutches of my hand, they are simply, and irretrievably, gone.
I understand now that motherhood changes imperceptibly and that just as new rituals are constantly working their way into my life, with each passing day others are slowly working their way out. The activities, expressions, and norms that string together to create our reality ebb and flow in and out like the timeless undulation of the waves in the ocean. One day I’ll be facing bigger lasts—lasts I can’t even bear to think about now. The last time my daughter cries out for me in the middle of a thunderstorm. The last time I pick my son up from school in the carpool line. The last time either one of them spends the night in my house before embarking on their own independent adventures. I think as moms we all search for the pause button every now and then. The lasts have shown me that its absence is one of the cruelest truths we’ll ever know.