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Last-chance parenting

By Shannon Hyland-Tassava

My newborn daughter Genevieve just turned three months old. Thus, she has entered what is, I think, my very favorite period of babyhood: the three-to-six-month-old stage. There's something about this age that I just adore; I did so with my firstborn daughter too. Babies are such user-friendly bundles during these months: no longer so floppy that their heads bob around like marionettes when you hold them on your shoulder, but not yet so big that holding them on your shoulder, or anywhere else, feels like a major strength-training workout. Plus, they start to look so prototypical-baby. You know: the wrinkly little-old-man face is gone, and in its place is a peachy globe of chubby cheek and chin (yes, chins can be chubby). Oh, so kissable. So irresistible. And the smiles! These babies, they get so charming right around now. All you have to do is look at them and they jump and wiggle with so much joy, they flash their wide pumpkin-grins so wetly, that you feel like you just won a prize for doing nothing. And who can ever get enough of that feeling? Certainly not me.

Which brings me to this. My husband and I have always planned to stop at two children. In many ways, it feels like enough. Enough contractions, enough hourly feedings, enough sleep training. Enough baby weight, enough nursing bras. Enough infant colic and toddler tantrums. Enough money stress when imagining how to finance two children, let alone more, from diapers through college tuition.

But the thing about thinking that you're probably not going to have any more babies is that everything -- every single little thing -- is the last. The mourning starts right away. You're only four weeks into new-babydom, and poof! the last mitten-sized newborn diaper you will ever use again. A week later, and goodbye tiny knitted bonnet with the ribbon ties. Another month or so? Never again the swaddling, never again the bassinet. It goes on and on; it never ends, right?

And yet even while I’m lamenting the endless endings of mothering I’m also the one begging the baby to sleep through the night, praying the toddler will deign to try the potty chair. In other words, I can see through the haze of postpartum sentimentality to realize there's a bright side to the relentless never-agains of parenting: I mean, surely the last night-nursing, the last diaper, the last orthodontia bill, the last driving lesson -- these will be causes to celebrate.

It’s not always easy, but I try really hard to appreciate the present moment with my baby -- with both my babies, actually, the new one and the giant two-and-a-half-year-old one too -- because the thing about these lasts is that you rarely, if ever, know in advance when they are coming. You just look around one day and go, Wow, when did she stop with that crazy full-belly, split-second, phantom grin thing she used to do in her sleep? Or, When did she get too big for the Pooh hat with the ears? It’s like an unexpected break-up, and the fleetingness of it all makes me wonder: is it possible to ever really know for certain that you are ready for each moment of mothering -- the sweet and the anything-but -- to be the last of its kind? How can you tell, round baby bottom cupped in your palm, tiny velvety head cozied into your neck, that you’re ready for this last chance to be, well, your last? I surely don’t know. But I’m still packing up the buntings and fuzzy sleepers, each as it is outgrown, in boxes marked "Donate."

The other day Genevieve fell asleep nursing, and though I know there will be many more instances of that occurrence in future months, I couldn't help but marvel at her heavy lids and her bear-cub snores, because one day this baby will never nurse to sleep again, but will instead twist her curious head and kick her big-baby legs and groan and giggle her way through her milky snacks, and this warm little pup crooked in just one arm will be a distant memory.

So: Genevieve is hitting her baby-stride, and I'm thrilled. And also, you know, a little bit sad.

Mmo : February 2007

Shannon Hyland-Tassava is a writer and psychologist living in southern Minnesota with her husband and two daughters.

Also by Shannon Hyland-Tassava:

Who are you calling "lucky"?
Musings on the meaning and economics of a childcare choice

What I really want to say, in a necessarily non-politically-correct kind of way, is this: It's not luck that is allowing me to be a stay-at-home mom, okay?

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