I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about a lot of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life. I don’t necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly not in the way that maybe the mother of three does watching her last baby graduate from infancy to the front steps of her kindergarten classroom – in what feels like the space of overnight. I’m three years in. I basically still don’t really have a clear reference for time. I know that there was life before my son, but it’s kind of hard to believe that it actually existed – since what could I have possibly done with all of that free time ?? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t recognize that 31 year old girl if she showed up on my doorstep much less relate to her (what does she DO with all of that free time?) I’ll be honest, its all a little fuzzy and not totally unlike the feeling of having been on a bender for the last three years of my life. Except that, unlike the consequences of unrestrained drinking, some really great things have happened.
The bittersweetness of common landmarks have bypassed me: walking, talking, sleeping in his own bed, going to daycare, potty training, etc. Babyhood was hard for us, this stage feels lighter – maybe that is a big part of it. Or maybe that he is my first and only kid. I know its a precious and fleeting time. And if ever I forget, there is someone to remind me everywhere I go and at every chance, how fast it all goes and how much I will miss it when its gone. Thank you, stranger in the check-out line, for letting me know essentially, that I am guaranteed to feel shitty later thinking about how I should be happier right now in this moment which will invariably get gold-plated in my memory…… that I will um, revisit when I am older and sipping my tea in my quiet house with piles of books around and art supplies and projects that I don’t ever have to clean up because no one’s going to touch my stuff and I have the whole weekend ahead of me to putter and dally and not cook for anyone and stay up as late as I want??? Just kidding. Sort of. I know my kid is going to grow up and we always feel wistful for what is behind. The past is like an Instagram account with flattering filters to highlight all of the high moments and none of the bad days. Oh wait, no that is actual Instagram.
At every stage of his increasing autonomy I cheer him on, marvel unflinchingly at the passage of months gone, feeling a sense of satisfaction that he is finding his footing in this world, as they do kind of with, without, or in spite of me at all. Often my partner and I will look at each other with some variation of, “Can you believe …?” But I’m still the one without a lot of nostalgia about it. I guess kindergarten will be a big one, we’ll see though.
Anyway, we decided it was time to cut his hair. It’s wild, unruly, a battle to wash and comb through and people have been mistaking him for a girl, (which he’s always gotten to some extent, but now he is starting to notice). We’d been getting comments for awhile from his grandpa and others (seriously, what the hell makes you SO uncomfortable with my kid’s hair?) which was frankly really irritating mostly because it starting making my son self-conscious about it. I was a little scared though, because I had also been told his curls won’t last. The ringlets he inherited from neither his father or myself, I had been warned, would disappear with the first cut. Literally, EVERYBODY has told me that. But he was excited. His first haircut! We promised ice cream afterward.
She didn’t even take off that much. Just a trim. He looked so big sitting up in the chair.
And as soon as I watched those first strands fall to the floor, I wanted to cry.
He sat very still and when she was finished he saw himself in the mirror and smiled with pride. We went to ice cream.
And I just could not look at him without tears spilling over. Just like that, everything had changed. The baby had disappeared. He was a boy.
My heart was gripped with the realization that we’d crossed over a threshold. There was no going back. I tried hard not to let my son pick up on my feelings. “It will grow again,” my partner reassures me when we are alone.
“No,” I say, “everything’s different.”
I was unprepared for the level of emotional reaction. Of course I know, it’s just hair. It will grow. It will be whatever it will be, curls or not. But is these such landmarks, the ones that don’t just naturally happen on their own but require the diligent, careful eye; the sense to know when it’s time to gently remove the scaffolding, the lovey, the comfort habit that has outgrown its service, the training wheels that have lingered past their usefulness. And no matter how much you might want to hold on to it for what it represents – it is these moments of stepping in to move forward the hand of time when only you can and must, that cause the heart to waver. It is these pivotal moments, some without as much fanfare as a haircut, that come and go in the most ordinary way and yet leave behind a profound imprint of what parenthood is again and again, the letting go. It is the thoughts that buzz around like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom as you lie awake and throw up a prayer for the twenty-seventh time that you did the right thing . Because even though you might know it was, it still pangs.
Like knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed my son. The moment I decided I was through pumping. Breastfeeding was complicated, arduous and emotionally wrought for us. Weening was something I had to accept long before I had wanted to. Though it was clear it was best choice for both of us, I still remember that quiet moment, in the dark, with my baby beside me, when I decided to let my body be done. It’s the Instagram reel without the filters, full of the raw emotion of what it really means to be a mother. In yogic philosophy there is a name for this letting go again and again: aparigraha, the principle of non attachment. Over and over again, we watch for the signs for when its time to let go a little bit more, when its time to release our attachment to the current story and let the next chapter begin.
“Motherhood is at once an exercise in unwavering fortitude and complete surrender.” ~ Karina Mackenzie (Read: Suspended in a State of Mommyhood. I’m serious, if you are a mother or a young parent, you’ve really got to read it. Go, right now.)