Being Mama When Baby gets Hurt

Yesterday, one of my precious, nearly two year old boys, fell off of and hit his face on the toy box he’d climbed. He fell so hard, his teeth went right through his upper lip and gouged the wood. Luckily, the cut is completely inside his mouth, the teeth involved seem fine, and he didn’t meet criteria for stitches. That said, his swollen upper lip looks like black and red hamburger meat inside and every time I look at his sweet face, my heart hurts.

One of the choices I’ve made for my children is to give them a great deal of freedom to explore their world, make mistakes, and learn. This often results in awesome photos of messy, happy kids running wild in the woods and fields around our home. They ride horses, play with our giant dog, pick up bugs, paddle board and kayak with us, and while they aren’t fearless, they are all quite independent for their respective ages. Most of the time, I feel confident in my approach.

Then something like this happens and that confidence crumbles a little more every time I conjure the image of my child sitting on the floor sobbing with blood covering his hands and running down his chin. I hold him close, I clean him up, and thoroughly investigate the injury. But even after determining a good rinse, some ice, and time will heal the wound, I know that another little piece of my heart is wounded in a way that won’t ever heal. This is motherhood. And I finally understand how my mama can so quickly recall and describe in excruciating detail every one of my own and my three brothers’ injuries throughout our childhood.

It’s a process, but after working my way over mountains of guilt and fear, I eventually find myself back where I started. Whenever possible, I want to give them more tools to successfully navigate the world. Only as a last resort do I want to make more rules or restrictions to prevent them from being hurt. Now is the time for them to take risks and experience the results. Now, while I’m here to scoop them up and make it okay. Now, while I’m able to create spaces for them to learn where even when they fail spectacularly, the ultimate risk is relatively low.

One day, my sweet, wild girl and boys will go out into the world without me or their dad there to kiss knees, rush them to urgent care, talk them through their options and possible outcomes, tell them no, cook for them, wash their clothes, and the list goes on. Motherhood is fun, painful, beautiful, terrifying, and exhilarating . . . but it’s also a job. And navigating the delicate balance between keeping my babies safe and preparing them to take on the world on their own is one of the hardest parts that job.

At the Top of These Stairs

I have spent countless, late-night hours nursing babies at the top of these stairs. It’s quiet and peaceful, if not the most comfortable place to sit. When my sweet Sunshine (my first baby) was born, I set up a whole nursing station with a cozy chair, books I was reading, phone charger, snacks, water . . . but with the boys, we were so far behind before we even got started, nothing like that ever came together. I used to bring them into our bed to nurse, but once we moved them out of our room, it felt like more trouble than it was worth. More and more often, I found myself stopping just outside their door and sitting down on this top step.

Sometimes, I think about what I need to get done that week or words I’d like to write. Sometimes, I think about the kids’ antics that day and make plans for fun and interesting things we can do later. I make grocery lists, budget, and sometimes read . . .

But on nights like this one, and there have been many, I just stare at the top of their heads and think about them–their whole lives from the moment I met them to this one: noting how much their hair has grown and how long they’re getting, mapping the feel of their weight in my arms, measuring their feet with my palms, pressing kisses into their soft hands, and watching them slowly-slowly drift back to sleep against my chest.

Then I sit here, much longer than necessary, the words from a book I loved as a child but didn’t understand at all echoing through my mind:

“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Firsts and Lasts

I nursed you for the very first time on a sunny, Sunday morning in July.  You’d been here less than an hour, but seemed to know what you needed.  Your father stood by watching over, nurses came in and out of the room, and I answered questions here and there, but even so, it was somehow just the two of us.

I nursed you for the very last time on a rainy Sunday in February.  You were eighteen months–some might say too old, some might say too young, but for us, it was perfect.  It was quiet and we were alone, watching the sunlight fade away from the living room window as water drops ran down the glass.

Now, I’m sitting here thinking about firsts and lasts.  All at once so happy and proud of how you are growing up and so unbearably sad that this beautiful time we’ve shared must come to an end.

It’s a feeling I know well a year and a half into being your mother.  I will never forget the first time I went to put you into a pair of newborn sized, footie pajamas and you simply didn’t fit.  Your little shoulders were pushing at the neckline and your tiny (but not so tiny as before) toes were bent against the ends of the footies.

It was an amazing and terrible moment.  I sat on the floor of the bedroom in our apartment and cried and cried.  You were only six weeks old!  How did it happen so fast???  Since then, I can’t even count the number of times you’ve grown out of something I specifically remember looking at and thinking it would take forever for you to grow into.

I love being your mama.  I am so proud of your curiosity, intelligence, strength, and independence.  It’s been my absolute pleasure to give you every opportunity I can to learn so you can do life on your own one day.  And it’s heartbreaking having to say goodbye to a version of you I love so deeply and will never see again without looking at a photograph.

That said, my sweet Sunshine, every time my heart is broken in goodbye, it’s put back together with love that just gets bigger and more as you get bigger and more.  Regardless of how much or little you ever need me, I will always be here.    After all, if you and I are anything like me and my mother (that’s Granny Bee, to you), you’ll be calling about how to make the biscuits, how to get that stain out, and just for giggles over mimosas long after you’re out in the world, making your own way.  : )

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Memories

My sweet Sunshine, you are currently rifling through a box full of spices in the kitchen, tasting some containers before dropping them at your feet, while others are tossed over your shoulder without so much as a cursory glance.  I’m not certain of your criteria, but you do seem to have a system.  I love to watch you explore–touching and tasting absolutely everything–cataloguing your environment with the precision and care of a scientist.

I folded and put away most of your nine month footies today because the necklines are beginning to stretch and your tiny toes are pressing uncomfortably against the feet.  It hurts every time–putting away bits of the present that somehow, without my noticing right away, became the past.  It is so strange that these moments which are molding and redefining me as a person and a mother, you will not remember.

You will not remember how I shrieked with joy when you took your first, wobbly steps or how I cried in relief and squeezed you tight after fishing that wad of drool-soaked paper out of your mouth.  You will not remember crawling around the yard, picking dandelions and trying to eat pebbles under my watchful eye.  You will not remember dancing in front of the oven door, giggling at your reflection.  You will not remember the way you turn diaper changes into the baby version of a greased pig contest.  You will not remember throwing all the spices out of the box.  And you will not remember your silly mama, sitting at the kitchen table, crying while she writes you love letters from your babyhood.

And oh how I love you, my baby.  Though our time together this way is short, one day, in the not so distant future, we’ll be making memories you can keep.  Until then, I will continue writing (and crying) you a path back through the years to the curious, determined, and much-loved baby you are so that while you may not remember, you can at least have a glimpse of your sweet, small self through your mama’s eyes.

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