The next stage

It's a memory so close to my reality I can feel it in my bones: a baby attached to me at all times in a sling; raw nipples from breastfeeding; four different tubes of diaper rash ointment in my purse at all times; troubleshooting how to empty a stinky pail of cloth diapers into a front-loading washing machine; onesies so tiny they would have fit the dolls of my childhood. Nights and days spent in a rocky chair, t-shirts smelling of that goat-cheesy spit-up, grinding baby food fresh in my hand crank grinder before dinner, Orajel, pre-treating poop stains, and feeding cod liver oil to sick toddlers.

Four babies flitted through our home in four short years. Four babies breastfed, four babies diapered, four babies loved and sniffed constantly, four babies whose every squack was answered with cuddles from a mama almost drunk with exhaustion. Years and years of co-sleeping and trying to find ways to have silent sex in a bedroom filled with toddlers. Years and years of wondering if we were doing anything right at all. Years of unsolicited advice, some of which was very valuable, and actually worked. Years of strollers and diaper bags and never leaving home unarmed with burp cloths, wipes, and extra clothes for everyone - even the adults.

He says that He has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11b NIV). Perhaps that is why, in the tunnel vision of exhaustion of young motherhood, I felt these years would last forever - that this insane and inane type of life with babies and toddlers was, indeed, eternity - and so often forgot to savor the little moments, the smiles, the giggles, the warm, fetid smells, the sweaty curl naps together, the army crawling babes, the joyful belly laugh of a babe who has just accomplished something VERY BIG in their universe, such as standing up on the back of a chair?

I've had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he's left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he's coming or going. I've decided that there's nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That's it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It's God's gift. I've also concluded that whatever God does, that's the way it's going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God's done it and that's it. That's so we'll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear. Whatever was, is. Whatever will be, is. That's how it always is with God. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 The Message)

I close my eyes for a long minute while I am rocking my littlest, my son, and when I open them, I have traveled through a worm hole, and he is four and a half, a strapping boy seeming on the verge of manhood, and Grandpa took the training wheels off this weekend and he is careening around on two wheels as if he's been doing it all his life. Every time he hops on his Spiderman bike, he calls to me, asking the same question, "Hey, Mama, wanna watch me? I can ride on two wheels now! I'm super good at it!"

All wrapped up in four and half bravado is fear and the desperate need still for Mama's assurance that life is safe and everything is okay. Two days ago we went to the splash pad on a rare 90 degree August day, an impromptu trip without swimsuits, just our clothes, and the kids went in fully dressed, except for Caleb. He asked, over and over - would the other kids mind if he was in his undies? Of course not, I reassured him. But he stood there, hovering, butt cheeks squeezed tight in trepidation. Not sure if undies made the cut. Not sure if undies were man enough for splash pads.

We've come now to these days when we can paint without smocks and full covering of the island with waxed paper. A day when scissors and glue are used without supervision. When kids use the computer without asking permission, and the oldest has email and her own little blog, and she writes a newsletter for their neighborhood club. Gone are diapers and burp cloths. It is a new season.

And so we go from babyhood to some amorphous childhood - I think they call this "tweens" or something, the cool parents that is, who have catch phrases for phases. We worry less about pottying and now it is zits and bras and picking on each other and hilarious, giggling talks about sex and boyfriends, texting and online predators, body parts and bodily functions, swear words and bullying and work ethic, charity and world problems and politics and transparency and the rules for bike riding all alone to Grandma's. house.

Some days, they are still just peeking out of a tent grown too small for for bodies much too big for kiddie pup tents. They are still just children, playing childhood games, dress-up, "family", "Jungle Kids", making mud pies and playing in the sand box.

The eldest is 130 pounds, an inch shy of 5 feet, wearing size 8 women's shoes. She doesn't know it yet, but she is in a young woman's body. Her mind is still in the throes of the Magic Tree House book series and the perfection of her various accents - British, Irish, Italian, French, and Russian, so far.

This phase is a slower one, less busy, less demanding in the moment - no COME NOW I JUST POOPED MY PANTS AND SOON THERE WILL BE POOP EVERYWHERE type of emergencies. It's a time for savoring what is, reflecting on the beauty of what is unfolding in these days, weeks, months years. A time for planning and looking forward to the day when this house is full of four teens. This time, I am trying to squeeze tighter to Scripture, to live in THIS moment, yet also see that this moment is not eternal, not the everlasting. That this phase will evolve slowly into the next, and we will slowly but surely grow as a family into a new season - that next there will be teens, then college years, then marriages and careers and grandbabies and homes and finances and all those adulthood decisions to walk side by side with them through. Oh, this glorious life, this parenting thing that blooms like a flower right in front of your very eyes!

But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1941)