I just dropped off my hulking 19-year-old son at the train so he can go back to his dorm in the city, where he will spend the rest of the night studying for his finals. I watched him unfurl his long, muscular, legs, open the car door and let himself out. He was carrying his backpack stuffed with freshly laundered clothes, his favorite snacks from my cabinet and some extra cash from my wallet. He mumbles a faint "See ya" and races up the stairs to the platform, a fully-grown young man, with his own mind, a five o'clock shadow, and a MetroCard.
I sat in the car with the engine running and wondered what happened to the blue-eyed baby that crawled so fast and furiously he wore out the kneepads on his onesies. The toddler who sat in his high chair obediently devouring spoonfuls of pureed organic peas and butternut squash I made for him, that he now makes for himself—roasted with honey and olive oil from a recipe he saw on the Food Network.
Where did he go? You know, the baby I grew inside my belly, brought home from the hospital and will never see again?
I'm the same mother my son went home with 19 years ago, albeit with a few more lines and a lot more experience. My son, on the other hand, is no longer 9 pounds, 18 inches tall, and toothless. He doesn't fit on my lap, go to bed at 7:30 pm or laugh hysterically when I make a funny face. I don't understand how this happened, but lately, it's been catching me off-guard.
Millions of new, unsuspecting mothers-to-be are lured into motherhood by cute babies and chunky rolls. You feel like babyhood will last forever.
I mean, most baby and child books you read only go as far as year one! They never warn you that 12 months is really chintzy; not nearly enough time to enjoy every second with your baby. There's no chapter about how quickly the time goes. Before you know it, that sweet 9-month-old you pushed in the plastic swing hanging from the apple tree, will disappear and become a sweaty, moody 180-month-old wearing low hanging Nike sweats and t-shirts with sayings on them.
I imagine if you are home right now with a baby or two, you have no idea what I'm talking about. You're too tired to think about it. You can't see past the days and nights of no sleep, no time, and no freedom to go anywhere. You may not even be able to wash your hair.
I feel you. I was there too. I paid no attention to the countless moms with older kids who passed me at Whole Foods with my baby in the cart and said, "Enjoy it, it doesn't last long."
I didn't get it. How could I? I was in it. I couldn't imagine at that moment that things were going to Change. So. Fast. I wish I knew. Wish I had put off the calls and the errands and just sat on the basement floor playing with him, or holding him in my lap, doing nothing.
I'm certainly way past the point of replacing him with another baby. Anyway, that's a shell game because any new baby is going to grow up and turn into a teenager just like all the other ones did. I would just find myself in this same wistful situation over and over and over. Besides, I really don't want a new baby. I just want MY baby back.
But now my "baby" is a man who goes to a fine university not far from me. He texts me once in a while to meet for lunch or dinner and picks a restaurant in the East Village with a cuisine I've never heard of that is always excellent and cheap.
He does most of the talking, about girls, and his classes in Comparative Urbanism, or Investigative Journalism. He pulls a worn copy of a book I read in college out of his backpack, pages littered with post-it notes, and wants to know what I think of it. Me. The mommy he ignored in high school about pretty much everything.
The mommy who constantly hounded him about his grades and his future now has a son who pulls all-nighters and gets A's and B's, because he wants to, and can do it for himself.
Now, with my young man sitting in front of me, I remember the days carrying him around thinking, He's getting too heavy for me, when is he going to learn to walk?
And walk he would. I don't know if I'm ready, but I am here cheering from the sidelines.