A Facebook memory popped up this weekend: three years ago today, I first met my son. His hair was black, his cheeks were pink, and he was so small I could fit him in the crook of my elbow. I feel as if there should be some sadness as I write this. To be done with that delicious time. Snuggled together on the glider, rejoined, if superficially, in the carrier
But there isn’t any sadness. I am glad to be done. I am glad our family is done. Or not done, but complete.
It’s hard to say I am past the toddler stage when my youngest is so firmly, dictatorially in diapers. No amount of bribery can dissuade him from his preferred means of elimination. But I am, definitely and forever, past the infant stage, the baby stage. The all-consuming, don’t-turn-your-head, don’t-leave-them-alone stage. The era of firsts that tumble after each other like beads bouncing from a broken necklace. First smile (ping!) first head lift (ping!) first roll, word, step (ping! ping! ping!). The end of two seems like the end of an era. He doesn’t toddle or wobble. He runs. He dances.
I never thought of myself as a natural mother. When I was young, Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage. I detested them. I didn’t even like to touch them. Their cartoonishly large eyes, their button noses, their creepy back story. (To be grown from cabbage plants? What?). Barbie dolls were slightly more engaging, in that you could take their clothes off and bend their knees not only forward, but also backward. But my house was Dream House-less. My one brunette Barbie lay abandoned, knees at awkward angles, somewhere below a pile of well-loved Care Bears.
Years later, as a camp counselor, one of my eight-year-old students said to me, slight accusation in her voice: “You always talk to us like we’re grownups.”
“How should I talk to you?” I asked, genuinely curious. Her courage faded. “No. It’s fine. It’s fine.”
It was years later still when my first good friend had a baby. “Can I hold her?” my husband asked. It didn’t even occur to me to ask. The baby, so tiny. My arms so big. I had vague ideas of soft spots and the damage I could unintentionally do to this fragile, healthy girl. I stayed silent, watching warily as the baby was passed into my husband’s hands.
After my first was born, though, I felt the pull to motherhood ferociously. I remember just days after he was born, looking at my husband and saying “I want another.” The equivalent of signing up for a marathon upon crossing the finish line.
My second was harder, in all respects. Before I ever laid eyes on her, she made her presence known with aggressive kicks and a series of false alarms. When she was good and ready, she arrived, sunny-side up, and weighing nearly nine pounds.
Life, it turned out, was also harder when trying to juggle a newborn and a 23-month-old.
Especially when said firstborn needed forgotten objects on high shelves as soon as I sat down to nurse. I was tired, in a way that is foreign now, blessedly out of reach. I made up a game once of blowing up the air mattress and lying on it. All twenty-ish pounds or so of my son would try to rock me out of it. My eyes closed, my breathing heavy. I was at sea.
A year or so later, our little family of four walked to the playground. It was one of those times when it’s almost too ridiculous how bad of a time you are having. The kids were falling, screaming, crying. The setting incongruous to the mood. Joyfully-colored monkey bars, shiny-silver slides. Sobbing children. My husband and I both took out our phones, opened the notes sections. “Only two kids,” we both wrote. “No more.”
My husband used to joke, “I wanted to have four kids, my wife wanted to have two, so we settled on two.”
Gradually, I realized, it did feel like settling. “Oh, let me hold her!” I would sing to my new mother friends. “Take a few minutes, we’ll be right here.” The baby nestled in the crook of my arm, all warmth and weight and trust. Afterward, holding my own children, they felt impossibly heavy. My arms impossibly light. I felt, not nostalgia, something more basic. Was this it? Was this our family? Were we really done?
I am a worrier, made more so with each pregnancy, with each life brought into this world, with each near-miss and horror story. Were we to have another, I would be entering that fraught landscape of “advanced maternal age.” And while I knew the risks (oh believe me, I knew them) and knew the odds were on my side, I also knew I didn’t want to wait much longer if we were going to have another. The spacing, every two years, dit dit dit. There was rhythm to that.
How does one decide these things? Ultimately it came down to this: If we had another, we wouldn’t regret it; if we didn’t, we might.
So we did. And hooray, too. Because he completes this family. With his joyfulness, and his “mean monster” face, and his refusal to use the damn toilet. He is the air and water to my oldest son’s earth. To my daughter’s fire. He is what we were waiting for, even before we knew we were still waiting. On that day when we took out our phones and cavalierly put a period down on a sentence that was only partly written.
Perhaps that’s why, when I saw that Facebook memory, that tiny face, I felt no tug of longing, no ovarian release, no what-ifs or how-abouts. We’re not waiting anymore. We’re living it, this family of ours. We are living it with joy and heartbreak and tenderness and strength and messiness and unbelievable noise. With all of that. We are writing the story of our family, the five of us. And even though our family is complete, the story has only just begun.
Guest post written by Ali Wilkinson. Ali lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, three small children, and two large cats. She is a lawyer, writer, knitter, runner and over-consumer of Nutella. Her writing has appeared on Red Book, Babble, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy and Elephant Journal, among others. She blogs about parenting and other things that make her laugh (and cry) at Run, Knit, Love. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.