Reality staring me in the face
And then, completely unexpectedly, I teared up. Seeing that picture was all too much because staring back at me in undeniable full color was A Big Girl. Gone was my tiny baby, my first baby, who when she was a mere two weeks old I held in the crook of my neck with one hand while browsing the aisles of Target. She slept there, her head snuggled in the curve of my shoulder, for the entire hour or so that I shopped. I can still feel her heart beating against me and her warm breath on my neck. Every now and then she’d sigh and nuzzle a bit closer.
That day was a pivotal day for me. It was our first official outing after her birth—her big public debut if you will. And thus, it was also my public debut as a mom. I was terrified. What if she cried or I forgot diapers or I had to leave my cart full of unpaid merchandise to leave the store and nurse her? It was my first test—our first test—and we passed.
She started to fuss almost as soon as we got there, so I picked up her tiny, seven-something pound body and held it against mine and that calmed her and she slept. The arm that was supporting her fell asleep and started to tingle partway through the trip, but even then in the early days of motherhood I knew that she’d wake if I put her back in her carseat, so I kept holding her. And honestly? I didn’t really mind. This was what motherhood was all about—tenderness and unease and warmth and discomfort and love. Who knew you could have all that in a place like Target? Walking through the aisles of that store I suddenly realized that no matter what, we were going to be OK.
People passing me smiled and oohed. I’m sure I looked a mess—unshowered and wearing yoga pants and a giant t-shirt—but the scene was unmistakable. She was clearly a newborn and I was clearly a novice and there we were, out making our place in the world. Little did I know how easy I had it that day. How naïve I was.
Now when we go to Target, it’s a real challenge full of “no’s” and “don’t touch that’s” and “please come back here RIGHT NOW’S.” I’ve known for a long time that my sweet, tiny, sleeping baby is forever gone. But seeing that picture yesterday sent it home like a hammer to my heart.
I walked out of her classroom and back to my car where I sat staring at that photo for a long time, searching desperately for some trace of my baby girl. Was there still a little something in the eyes? Or maybe a bit around the lips? The harder I looked, the less of that baby I could see until eventually it was almost like looking at a photo of a child I’d never seen before.
Except of course it wasn’t. This was my child. My baby. My Big Girl.
All afternoon I anxiously watched the clock waiting to pick her up from school. For the first time practically ever, the two-and-a-half hours that she was away from me inched by. It seemed like it’d never be time to go get her. Until finally it was. As soon as I saw her, I gave her a huge hug and, almost as if she knew it was exactly what I needed, she nuzzled her head against my neck and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. It was better than a time machine—abruptly, she was my baby again. Just like that day back at Target, I realized we were going to be OK. Because if there’s one more thing motherhood is about it’s change.
Fortunately, it comes in small, barely perceptible increments that you don’t even really notice until all of a sudden. Maybe it’s something your child says or does that seems impossibly mature. Or maybe an envelope full of pictures catches you off guard. It doesn’t really matter how it happens. But it will be OK. Because when you least expect it, your Big Girl (or Boy) will hug you or climb into your lap and for just a moment, you’ll recapture a sliver of your tiny, sweet baby. And in that moment, you will be the luckiest person on earth.
My Big Girl