I inevitably hear his little voice confirming my presence, right as I’m about to leave – at daycare dropoff, at bedtime, before running an errand. And every time, it squeezes my heart just a little, both with its sweetness and its sadness. Because in those moments, I am about to not be here with him, at least physically, and because in the coming years, he probably won’t ask that as often, and I won’t be able to confirm that “Yes, my pal, Mommy is always here.”
In the past few weeks, it’s become so much more real how much he’s growing up. He went back to daycare after a year and change away, and now happily bounds inside without even a look back. He gets himself ready for bathtime, flipping his shirt way up to push his tiny little athletic shorts down, yanking his arms out of his sleeves, and climbing into the big tub in the bathroom we share (he and Mommy get to share the nice one with more storage and a window overlooking the backyard). He opens the fridge to get snacks and asks for the music he wants in the car by name. He climbs ladders at the playground and helps pick up after dinner so that “robot vacuum” can do its job. He grows and learns so much every day – I know he still needs me, but sometimes he doesn’t need me, you know?
And with a new baby on the way, I really struggle with this. Will he need me more when his baby sister also needs me, because he’ll feel I’m slipping away? Or has he already started to adjust to his mom doing less with him because I feel more physically limited right now? Is bedtime now Daddy’s domain, when it was once our special time to cuddle and sing together? Parts of me just want it all to go back to how it was 3 months ago, when he was still my sweet baby, and I didn’t feel like I was saying, “Sorry, bud, Mommy can’t do that right now” every single day, pushing him away from me, just when I’m trying to cling to his babyhood the most. I love the little person he is becoming, but all I want is to sit still and soak up his smallness, his softness, all while he runs wildy ahead, racing toward the point where he doesn’t need me to snuggle him to sleep, to kiss his cheeks and his forehead and his nose before bed, to sing his favorite songs, and hold him after every minor bump or bruise.
In the final weeks before the baby arrives, we’re trying to do more special things with him – trips to local farms, going to the playground as much as he likes, special days with just Mommy or Daddy – but it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels like too little, too late, though he seems more than happy to take advantage of our guilt if it means he gets to do a lot of fun stuff on the weekends or get extra strawberry ice cream. With the clock ticking, it feels like I miss him more than I ever did when I would go away on work trips or girlfriends’ weekends, even when he was a tiny baby, not an actual toddler with opinions and big feelings and an ever-expanding knowledge of the world around him. I’ve never missed someone who was right there, someone I spent every waking day with, as much as I currently miss the three-feet of questions and demands that I only drop off at daycare for 7 hours a day. Does he miss me as much? Does he miss me at all? Is that selfish to wonder? Is that what parenting is about, finding the balance between selfless devotion to your kids and selfishly wanting their love and devotion right back? I don’t have the answer, obviously, but for now, I just really want him to know that Mommy’s here.