On my second to last day of maternity leave, I sit in a rocking chair in my baby’s nursery, which is filled with late afternoon sun. She is asleep, her head resting on my chest, my cheek resting on her head, my hand patting a heartbeat pattern on her back. I gaze at the artwork on the wall that I so painstakingly selected and breathe in the smell of warm milk that is nestled in her neck.
Soon, my gaze drifts to her laundry basket and I think, in five more minutes she’ll be asleep enough for me to put her down. Then I’ll throw that laundry in, wash the bottles, send that email and maybe jump in the shower. And normally, that’s what I would do. But there is something about today that leads my mind away from the laundry basket to an old poem, one that is usually remembered in needlepoint by a grandmother:
The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep!
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
No, babies don’t keep. I can’t believe how much mine has changed in just 12 weeks. Every day brings a new development, a new skill, a new “trick” as my husband likes to call them. Every day brings new joy. I see the wistful look of a mother with a 10 year old in Target; I see a sweet memory pass across the face of a grandmother at a coffee shop. I am regularly stopped on the street by people who want to peek at my baby, telling me how beautiful she is, how sweet, how alert, and almost always ending with, “Enjoy this time.”
I read an article recently in which author challenges that piece of generic wisdom directed toward all parents of young babies. Sure, the people who say, “Enjoy this time” are obviously only remembering the good, happy moments of having an infant – there are certainly many trying times I’d like to forget as well. But I’m actually not bothered by it. Each time I hear it, I consider it a small reminder from the universe to ignore the less important things, to sing one more song, to rock her a little longer, to stare at her while she’s sleeping instead of my iPad.
However I do agree with the author’s point that enjoying every moment feels impossible. When I hear it, I immediately worry that I’m not enjoying this time; that I’m somehow missing something. It’s almost as if I am too aware of how precious this time is; I’m paranoid that I’m not taking it in. Yes, I hear how crazy that sounds. I spend every minute of every day with her. But am I really committing those minutes to memory? So many friends say they can’t remember these days with their own kids – sleep deprivation, stress, selective memory – I’m not sure why, but it’s a common enough complaint for me to worry that I too, will become one of those parents.
So, I do what I can to live in each moment, to commit it to memory – not just what I’m doing or what she’s doing – but the good stuff: the smells, sounds and sights of babyhood. Whether it’s a photo, a journal entry, a video, a note scribbled in her baby book, or just an actual, real memory, I try to capture it, fully aware that these days won’t last, but there will always be good ones ahead.
As I rock my baby girl, who is growing hotter, sweatier and heavier as her nap wears on, I remember the old poem, and I start to cry a little. I squeeze her hot little body, smell her head, feel the soft skin on the bottom of her foot and look around her happy room. I will sit here for the duration of her nap because today, nothing is more important than hearing her breathe and breathing her smell. In fact, every day until I go back to work, I’m going to ignore nap schedules and bedtime routines. If she wants to sleep on my chest, she can. In a year, she’ll be squirming to get off. Because, after all, babies don’t keep.