Thursday, July 14, 2016

My Empty Arms

Today was a big day in our house. Our son, Asher, turned one. It was full of all the great things you would expect of a one year old's birthday. Like the first dessert eating experience that results in cake and icing in every crack and crevice...every crack and crevice...and one-year-olds have a lot of cracks and crevices. You look at your highchair afterward and contemplate just throwing it out and starting over with a new one. And then there's presents. Where you try to get your one-year-old interested in opening them up by tearing a little corner of the paper for him while also trying to keep your other, older children from fighting over and/or opening all the rest of the presents. In the end, it is the siblings that are playing with the new toys as the baby crawls around playing with tags and ripped up paper. Good times. The best, actually.

I wish I could tell you that the night ended with me taking Asher up to his room and gently rocking him to sleep as he laid his little head on my shoulder, drifting off to sleep to the sound of me singing him a lullaby. But...he's one now. So, it looked more like me having to pry five tiny fingers off of a tiny toothbrush against his will after brushing his teeth, followed by nursing him as he dug his pointer finger into my bellybutton (which is about as relaxing as dragging my fingernails down a chalkboard), and ended with me attempting to hold and rock him for approximately seven seconds as he alligator rolled out of my hands to get to his crib. Good times. The best, actually.

After that, I read a story to my three girls. Well, more like I read a story to my oldest daughter, Jezze, who interrupted many times to ask many questions, while my second daughter, Charlotte, got distracted by, well, everything else in the room, and while my youngest daughter, Dominica, whined nearly the entire time as she repeatedly requested to sit on my lap and/or stood directly in front of me disrupting her sisters' view of the pictures. Good times. The best, actually.

Then, I laid down with Dominica as she fell asleep. And I cried. For about ten minutes, I just cried. I cried because we have had a whirlwind of birthdays in our home over the last eight days and the weight of that apparently finally caught up to me. We now have a six-year-old. How?! And our little Charlie is four. What the heck? And now the baby...he's one. One. I'm happy and I'm sad and I'm overwhelmed and I'm thankful and I'm tired and I'm happy and I'm sad. I cried because I'm oh so aware that these are good times. The best, actually.

Remembering back, it felt like as soon as Josh and I got married people began asking us if and when we wanted to start a family. And then as soon as we had one child people began to ask if we were ready for another. And when we kept having girls people would ask if we were going to keep going until we got a boy. And then we had a boy and now people just seem to ask out of concern if we want to have more kids. Like, they may say, "Do you and Josh think you want to have any more children?" But what they really may be saying is, "You guys aren't gonna have anymore kids, are you? Are you?" Goodness, when I was pregnant with our third even the baby doctor asked me if I wanted them to go ahead and "tie me up" after delivery. I remember saying, "No thank you," while thinking, Why? Am I not allowed to have any more kids? Truth is, Josh and I didn't really plan our family. Well, we did intentionally try to have our first two. The rest...just kind of happened. When I called him at work to tell him I was pregnant with Asher he took a deep breath and said, "Okay. But this is the last one." It's like we, along with every third stranger I ever encounter absolutely anywhere I go, just knew our hands are getting a little full. And so is our house. And our van. And our patience. And, well, our everything.

So, are we done? Do we want to have more children? This is honestly the first time I have really had to think about that question. When Jezze turned one, we were already wanting to start trying for Charlotte. When Charlotte turned one I was already five months pregnant with Dominica. And when Dominica turned one, it was just three days later that I found out I was pregnant with Asher. I have literally been pregnant or nursing for the last six years straight. We have been in every stage of rearing small children for the entire time that we have been parents. We've got it all. Babies waking in the night. Toddlers that are emotionally out of control. Preschoolers that know if they want to be heard they need to yell and shout over the emotionally out of control toddlers. Kids that are potty training. And kids that are regressing on their potty training ("Oh my gosh, is that poop? Who poooooped?!!!"). Siblings that are inseparable, yet for the love cannot get along for what feels like more than five minutes at a time. Nursing babies. DEMANDING nursing babies. Curious kids that ask a ba-jillion questions all AT THE SAME TIME. Some that are seemingly never going to stop wetting the bed. Never going to eat a meal without leaving 5768979708 crumbs on the floor. Never going to just walk continuously from the house to the van and get in the van and get in their car seat and just stay there in their car seat in the van until they are buckled and we are ready to pull out of the driveway. Never. Never going to learn to use words instead of whining or making demands. Never going to just hold my hand and happily cross the busy street so that I don't have to appear like I am kidnapping my own child as I literally drag her by the arm across the road. At times it is sheer chaos. And it is completely overwhelming. And it can be really easy for me to believe the lies I begin to hear in those moments. That we have too many kids. That we made a mistake taking all this on. That we are failing at this. That it's too hard. That it is never going to be any different. And I think, to answer the big! No, I don't want any more children. Never. Ever. At all.

But then there are days like today. Moments like now. Where I am remembering how just one year ago I was in agony, working through the hardest child labor I had ever experienced. With Josh, the best labor partner in the entire world, by my side. Experiencing the oneness in marriage in those darkest moments is one of the most powerful things that I don't think I could adequately put words to. My pain is his pain. His strength is my strength. And in the end that child...(sigh)...that's our miracle. Our joy. Our blessing. Those very first moments of meeting that baby for the first time are absolutely indescribable and irreplaceable and incredible. And thinking of never experiencing that again leaves me kind of...breathless. I am struggling to comprehend how my days of carrying babies could possibly be over so quickly. It feels like just yesterday that we fell on our knees in tears of joy after getting our first positive pregnancy test. The idea that there was life inside me was mind-blowing! It's all the first steps. The first words. The feeling of a tiny hand in yours. The celebrations of learning to read and to throw a ball and to blow a kiss and to slide down the fireman's pole on the playground. It's the cutest mispronounced words. It's hearing that first heartbeat. The way it's impossible to see your unborn child moving inside you on the sonogram screen and not bawl like a baby. The first time you get to share that movement in your womb with your husband after thirty seven failed attempts ("Quick, feel this...the baby is moving! Ugh, never mind."). It's the way you overhear your girls arguing over which one of them is going to marry their little brother. It's the way Jezze cried after her loose tooth accidentally got knocked out in the tickle machine (aka...daddy), not because it hurt but because she was afraid to lose a part of herself. It's Charlotte seeing a picture of an eagle on the American flag and calling it an angry chicken. It's Dominica looking for her stuffed hedgehog named Javé asking, "Where me Javé?" And it's Asher wanting to be in my arms. Usually always only ever in my arms. My arms. It's knowing that all the firsts are eventually also the lasts. The last time you have a one year birthday to celebrate. The last time the baby wakes you in the night just to be held because he missed you. The last time your lullaby is requested to sooth a fearful heart. The last time napkin is pronounced "pakin". The last time anyone is going to wear those little pink Crocs. Or ask for help washing their hands. The firsts...well, we recognize them immediately. We record them in photographs and baby books and celebrate them with family and friends. The lasts, they are happening before our very eyes and without us even knowing it.

The simple truth is, parenting brings trials. And it brings blessings. And you really can't get the blessings without also experiencing the trials.

Do I want to have more children? No. And yes. I truly believe that our family is complete. We really are living at max capacity. It would be really difficult to add another tiny human to our bunch at this point. But I also can't tell you I'm happy to put these stages behind me and move on. Because I'm not. It's the ending of an era. And endings are often painful. This one is no exception. Asher is one now. It's only a matter of time before he is walking and my arms will no longer be his place of contentment. Instead they will just be really...empty. My arms will be empty. But, you know what? My heart? It will still be so incredibly full.



 The End