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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gone

Some parenting routines are deliberately shaped and formed. You read books, you ask around, you make informed choices. You know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But some parenting routines you just fall into. You wake up one morning and realize that’s the way it’s been forever, the forever that started the moment you first held that child in your arms. You didn’t plan it, you didn’t think it through. It just happened that way, and it worked well for everyone, such that you never even thought to interrogate it. (more)

That was Baby Blue’s morning routine. It just happened. She woke up — first in my bed, then, a year later, in her own — and there was only thing she wanted from the world, and only one person from whom she could get it: me. Every morning she would call for me, and I would scoop her up. Nestled in my arms, Baby Blue would point her way downstairs, ordering me imperiously down to the couch to sit in my accustomed spot so that she could begin her day with the blessed MILK while I flipped idly through my feed reader, my laptop just beyond the reach of her kicking bare feet. She would nurse and I would read, and neither one of us ever had much to say about it afterwards. It was just a given, that I’d start the day with her weight in my arms, and she’d start her day with a hand resting on my belly. That was the way it was, every day, forever.

Forever ended a couple of months ago. I didn’t even notice when it happened; no one rang a bell to inform me that the day had arrived, the last day on which I would ever cuddle with my daughter in the morning over MILK. Once, a couple of years ago now, I was bemoaning some passing milestone to a woman we knew, a woman whose children were already grown and gone. She nodded sagely and told me that there was a last time for everything. She said of her son, “I knew there would be a last time he ever sat in my lap. And then one day, there was.” I looked from her to my own son, still at that time desperate to compete with his baby sister for his fair share of my lap; and I shuddered, hearing that. Could that really be true? Your child could sit in your lap and you would think to yourself: last. Could you ever imagine that? How would she have known? It’s only looking back, months later, that you realize. It never happened again. It’s gone. Last.

So Baby Blue stopped nursing in the mornings. We’d been working toward it, of course, for months. When you have a team of medical professionals on your child’s case for failure to thrive, you can bet that one or another of them is going to be markedly unenthusiastic about a toddler having breastmilk first thing in the morning when there are so many other calorie-laden options to be had. We’d been pushing on her sippy cups filled with wondrous potions: melted vanilla ice cream, heavy cream, whole milk, and a powdered calorie supplement. For months she would turn up her nose at the very idea of those sippy cups until she’d had her MILK from mama. Weary and frustrated, I told one of our medical professionals, the one who most insistently beat the weaning drum, that I thought we should lay off, that the morning nursing session would be the last one to go.

Well. It’s not the first thing I’ve been wrong about when it comes to Baby Blue, and it won’t be the last. It has snuck up on me, the ways in which I have become a dispensable part of her morning. One day it was unthinkable that I could leave the house for any reason before Baby Blue had awakened and had her MILK. A few months later, and my routine is completely different. I get up when Mr. Blue does. There are school lunches to make, backpacks to double-check, coffee and emails, a morning walk before Mr. Blue leaves for work. If Baby Blue isn’t awake when I leave the house, I come home to find her sitting contentedly with Mr. Blue, watching a video as she eats her breakfast of champions (melted ice cream, dry Cheerios, Pediasure). Sometimes she doesn’t even look up when I open the door. Did I used to be her whole world in the mornings? Really? It's hard to remember, now.

(It wouldn’t be accurate to say that Baby Blue is weaned altogether. She can go five or six days without nursing, and then ask for it at bedtime every night for a week. But that won’t last forever, I know. That will sneak up on me, too. After weeks of trying predict which nursing session might be the last, I’ve given up on forcing the milestone. It will happen, and I will not know it until I look back, weeks and months later, and say: last.)

Baby Blue woke herself up early one morning last week. She let herself out of her bedroom, wandered into the hallway, and lay down again in the doorway of her brother’s room. When I woke up, that’s where I saw her, singing quietly to herself, half in the hallway and half out. We looked at each other, and I smiled and held out my arms. Baby Blue ran over to the bed, which is still far too high for her to climb into by herself. I pulled her up; she snuggled in close to me and threw her arm around my neck. She smiled at me and kissed my cheek; I smiled and kissed hers. She glowed, and I glowed, from kisses and smiles, until it was time to get up. When the day had started in earnest, when we were all dressed and the lunches made, Baby Blue sat on my lap with her sippy cup and smiled up at me as I cuddled her in my arms. I felt a warmth I hadn’t even known had gone missing over these past few months of growing up and away.

My baby girl. I never knew how much that morning routine meant to me. Not until I put my arms around her and kissed the top of her crazy curls and realized that those days, oh, those days have passed. They are gone.

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