Monday, November 29, 2010

My heart! My heart! Ouch! My heart!

My baby turned one. And I'm a big, sticky wad of sap sopping in a solution of melancholy and saccharine.

There isn't a word, at least in English, for that anguish you feel as your babies grow and turn into not-babies. There should be a word for it. I know I'm not the only one who stews around in it. I think I would help to have a word for it.

Our Baby Turning One

I've heard so many mother's describing their babies' transition to childhood as "heartbreaking."

It does feel achey-breaky but it isn't straight up heartbreak per se, because of course your heart is also bursting with pride and relief as your children become more able and independent. It's not like a sudden trauma to the heart -- nothing like a punch or a stab or a blast. It's not so terrible as all that. It's not a falling or a sinking or a shattering kind of heartbreak. It's more of a heart-burstingness. It is a slow, throbbing type of pain and has something to do with welling up, spilling-over and with leakiness.

Our Firstborn becoming a Toddler

It's a mourning of sorts, but there's no tragedy to point to, except for the obvious fact that every day since our birth brings us closer to our graves.

Nothing has ever made me feel so deeply how precious and fragile life is then holding a newborn.

Hello, Son. Nice to meet you. Go ahead and break my heart.

And nothing has ever brought into sharper relief how short life is than watching an infant grow into and out of a 0-3 month-sized sleeper. It's redonkulous. Chez nous, with three growing kids, I reach into a drawer almost every single day and pull out some cute thing out that somebody has grown out of.

There are mounds of things in the laundry room that my heart can't bear to sort into giving-away piles.
Here's where I'm at: our baby, our third and last baby! has turned one. And the very day she did so my email subscription to "Your Baby This Week" dot com started sending me "Your Toddler This Week" emails.

Ouch! My heart!

And sure enough, it's like she checked her calendar and said, "Oh, today's the day I turn into a toddler. She hoisted herself up on her shaky little pudgy baby legs, she put her arms out for balance, and began laughing at her clever little standy trick. Now she spends her days looking for opportunities to climb the treacherous stairs, teetering around the edges of furniture, and having little temper tantrums that sound more and more like a skilled performance by a wee diva and less and less like the helpless mewling of an infant.

Our son's last scoot. He knew how to walk but for this occassion, busted out a final, glorious scoot.

It's all enough to make me want to shout, "Just stop it! You're supposed to be our baby! It's obvious you've set your mind on taking your first steps just as soon as you can gain enough motor control in your little legs and I've got to say, I really don't think it's a good idea! I think you should stay just like you are with the scooting around on the floor, and the giggling, and the pigtails, and the tiny pairs of blue jeans, and such and such. We love you. Just like you are! So this unmitigated drive of yours to grow and change every single day is a bit much. It just might break our hearts. Especially mine. Because my heart is a mommy heart now, and it's all mooshy."

I know I'm not the only one who suffers this affliction. I know I'm not the only one who has to actively avoid steeping in it. The thing I don't get is why isn't there a word for this mommy-ache?

Sentiment can mean a self-indulgent wallowing in sadness or nostalgia. But anyone can be sentimental. What I'm getting at is an emotion I simply didn't experience before I became a mother.

Waiting for Number 2

It's kind of like nostalgia, but then again, it's not, because it's not a yearning for the past, per se. To be honest, babies have always struck me as a bit tedious. Nursing them from squalling infancy into toddlerhood is really, really hard. It's not that I want to turn back the clock to say, a year ago when I was a much more raw and exhausted person without a hope in hell of a night out or even an uninterrupted shower. I don't. But I would like things to slow down a bit. I mean, come on!

Daphne De Marneffe says mothers suffer from a "nostalgia for the present." This is apt, I think. So many moments of seering adorableness occur when you have children. And you can't help but be aware of how ephemeral these moments are. This baby or kid that you love so entirely completely utterly fiercely is going to be a little bit different tomorrow and in a month quite different and in a year entirely transformed. How can you not mourn the fleetingness of these moments even as they are occurring?

De Marneffe gives mothers credit for a lot of "emotional work" like this. It's true. It's hard work to love children. They are in a constant state of transition. You love them just as they are and they keep changing. It steamrolls you.

My sense is that the ache is a permanent thing. I don't think it's going anywhere. If you're thinking another baby might fix it, I'd like to caution you that I think it actually gets worse with subsequent children.

I like what Anne Lamott says:

"New parents grieve as their babies get bigger, because they cannot imagine the child will ever be so heartbreakingly cute and needy again. Same is a swirl of every age he's ever been, and all the new ones, like cotton candy, like the Milky Way. I can see the stoned wonder of the toddler, the watchfulness of the young child sopping stuff up, the busy purpose and workmanship of the nine-year-old."

I can think of no personal tragedy worse than not watching my children grow up. So I'm not complaining, not really. I just wish there was a word for that achey-space babies create as they careen into childhood.
Our Son turning 1

And I know, nobody feels sorry for us. Nor should they. after all, we did do this to our own mother's, didn't we?

It took a lot of restraint to not wax on in this blog post about baby steps. Specifically about how my babies' first steps have led tread marks upon my heart, like those astronauts footprints on the moon. And about how I know this baby is about to take her first steps and when she does she'll toddle right out of babyhood into toddlerhood and I don't know if my heart can take it! I mean, there are so many footprints all criss-crossed there, in the moondust of my heart and... oops, I've waxed on about it.

Forgive me, Dear Reader. I am delirous with mommy-choly.


works cited

Lamott, Anne. "Diamond Heart." Plan B: Further thoughts on faith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. 155-156. (Have you read Anne Lamott? She is wonderful. Please read anything by her. If you are a writer, read "Bird by Bird." If you are a mom, read "Operating Instructions." Otherwise, just read anything by Anne Lamott.)

De Marneffe, Daphne. Maternal Desire: On children, love and the inner life.
(This is an amazing book if you're the type to enjoy an academic discourse on motherhood.)


  1. Mommy-choly. It feels very apt. I know it well.

    Happy birthday to your baby. Happy birth-ing day to you.

    Now I think I will go and cry because my own babies are growing up and SOB!

  2. When I was younger I used to capture moments in my head to remember and revel in later. I built up a fair few over the years. Then, I had babies. And those moments I yearn to capture come so thick and fast, like a blizzard, I can't hope to keep up with it anymore. My babies will be one in February. My heart is already full-to-bursting... what will I do when they are toddlers?

    I am practicing my mommy-choly-ness. Thanks for the word!

  3. Oh, I do agree. Mommy-choly indeed. I did feel it more intensely when my own sweet 2nd baby turned into a toddler. Knowing what to expect I could pinpoint the very first toddler-y tantrum, and I wanted to mourn the loss of my sweet baby! While she was still very much there, of course. Just toddler-fied.

  4. oh, the ache of the mother's heart. so true.

  5. (sniffle) I feel like this every.single.birthday. Just thinking of Kieran turning three in a couple of weeks makes me weepy and bursting with a myriad of conflicting emotions. Thank you for putting it much more lyrically than I could :)

  6. I know, I know -- and it's all the worse because it makes you feel like a crazy person. I have these vivid memory-pictures in my head of Angus as a solemn, fat-cheeked two-year-old and I want to weep as if that two-year-old is dead, when he's really not but kind of is, because the big giant ten-year-old WILL insist on saying his Ws properly and.... yeah. It's all so linear.

  7. Abso-smurfly! My daughter just turned one also Congratulations and ouch! Mommyhood is, as you say, heart-aching--with beauty, pain, love, joy, loss, etc., etc. Babies are an illustration of the life changes we cannot stop.

  8. I felt a bit different when my one and only turned 1. I was so intensely proud that we had all survived!!! But yes, I get it, and maybe mama-choly is a good term. I think I'll try it out and let you know.

    Happy birthday, diva!

  9. Mommy-choly... perfect! Though it isn't always a milestone that triggers it, by any means. When our daughter snuggles up with Daddy, my heart swells so much with love; it does sting a little and I get all verklempt. My husband thinks it is a bit silly, but it is oh so bittersweet!

  10. Aww, Betsy! I love this! My son turning one didn't do this to me much, but he is turning two in 25 days, and THAT thought is much more difficult for me! I love that he's growing up and saying things and thinking and doing things on his own, but there is some mommy-choly there. Happy Birthday to your baby! :o)


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