What happens when it’s over? When the babies don’t cry in the middle of the night for milk? When the magic kisses for their boo-boos no longer hold their power?
What happens when that tiny, terrified voice doesn’t call out for you to do a monster check under the bed and the sippy cups aren’t necessary, even over carpet? When the grapes no longer need cutting, and the diapers don’t need to be changed?
What do you do when they don’t want to hold your hand as they walk into school? When they ask you to please not put their hair in pigtails anymore? Or simply say those powerful words, “Mama, I can do it!”
Where does the mama magic go? It seems like it disappears overnight. One day we’re begging them to go back to their beds and the next we’re begging for a cuddle. Why aren’t we needed the same anymore?
There is this little girl who instantly changed my life. She has brown hair and bright blue eyes and runs around saying “like” too frequently and flipping her hair as she bounces through the house. But before her hair flipped effortlessly, she needed me every moment. It was primal and constant. The very moment we were introduced was a moment of need. After a long, stressful C-section, I was tired. My body hurt and pained for sleep. I was in and out of consciousness and woke from dozing to feel the sweetest baby head up against my chest. “You’ve got a hungry little girl,” the nurse cheerily said. And without a single moment of parenting experience, I knew she needed me. The nurse propped me up, laid her on my swollen, exhausted body, and I started to nurse my baby girl.
However, before this moment, I had spent minutes, hours, years overthinking this role. Would I be good at it? How would I know if my baby was hungry? Would my body produce milk? It didn’t seem real and was so far off into the future. Many times I didn’t feel adequate. But then she nursed. She didn’t know my worries. She didn’t care about my insecurities. She taught me to nurse, and I felt needed.
Jump to a few years later. The same little girl is teetering on the hardwood floor in the living room. Her motivation and drive to walk were a force to be reckoned with from early on. I was a first-time mom, and there was nothing more satisfying than envisioning those first few steps. Cameras ready! We had been dreaming of them since she pushed up with those pudgy little hands seven short months earlier. Time flies, we thought. She yearns to walk and wants that freedom but holds both hands out in front of her, reaching for me. I am still needed. In the same month that she weans from nursing, she begins to walk. My role is different in her life now, but the need for me still thrives.
But then she grows again. Those exhausting days with a toddler lengthen again with the dawning of newfound independence. The sass, the pushing of every boundary, and the need for self-sufficiency in everything she does make my head spin. “I can shower by myself. I can pick out my clothes. I can do it all because I’m six!” It starts to feel so defeating and often makes me doubt my ability to keep creating boundaries. I’ve never had a six-year-old before. Is this normal? Shouldn’t she not know how to roll her eyes yet?
What does she need? I ask. But then, I take a step back and realize she needs me, again. She needs to be able to push back and test boundaries. She wants to see what’s on the other side and then jump back down to me. It makes her feel safe and loved and, slowly, she begins to understand that rules matter. Rules make her safe. The pushback is really “Mom, please be unconditional and consistent.” I’m needed now more than ever, and the lessons just became that much more important.
So, let us all remember that we are still needed. That two-day-old is all grown up, but that 14-year-old still needs his mama to comfort, build, and praise him. Knowing exactly how you’re needed might be more difficult now, but his desire for you is unwavering. Let them be little, and then let them be big! Cherish those moments playing on the floor with blocks; cherish the moment they build a tower all by themselves; and then cherish the moment you give those blocks to another baby who needs them just the same. You’ve moved on now to conversations and silly jokes and a new opportunity to know each other.
This is what we learn as mamas. We learn that change is hard and good. We learn that what we do changes with each passing day, but their need for us remains. We learn how to cope with the loss of one role and the introduction of another (sometimes in one day!). No one asks us if we’re ready. No one prepares us for the loss. And often, no one teaches us how to revel in the new. Be strong in your belief that change is good because it means they CAN do it. And at the end of the day, they CAN because you DID.
What happens when they grow up? What happens when it’s over? Don’t worry, mama—it never is.