I'll never forget the day: April 4, 2008. He was about nine months old and after weeks, maybe months of coaxing, pleading and prodding, Noah finally looked right at me and said it: Mama. Is there any sweeter music to a new mother's ears? It was his first "real" word and just like every other milestone in a child's life, with the obvious joy came the bittersweet, undeniable fact: my baby was growing up.
He's said it at least a million times since that morning. When he runs into my arms after a long day, they are the two most joyous syllables I've ever heard. Mama. When he's crying and needs comfort after falling down and scraping his knee, there's a raw vulnerability that nearly brings me to tears. Mama. At 6am when he decides he's ready to jump start the day, there's an innocent eagerness that makes me smile in spite of the fog of fatigue clouding my brain. Mama!
But out of the blue this past week, 2-year-old Noah changed the tune of my favorite maternal melody. As I dropped him off at daycare, he wriggled out of my arms, bolted for his waiting group of friends, and called out "Bye, Mom!" with a cursory wave in my general direction. "Mom?" I thought? Where did that come from? Surely not out of my baby's mouth?
And that isn't the only change. Over the past several weeks, my sweet little boy has gone from stringing five or six words together to keeping up his end of a full-on, all-out conversation. His clothing size is no longer measured in months, but years. He's gone from eating crayons to actually coloring with them. And we're even inching close to the Holy Grail of toddler milestones: ditching diapers for big boy pants. Has anyone seen my baby boy?
Doctors say when children go through growth spurts it puts pressure on the joints that can cause a great deal of pain, but most medical textbooks don't address the issue of parental growing pains. They are the aches that come as you realize your child has reached a new level of independence and will never need you in the same way again. It's the game of tug-of-war that pulls at your heart: pride in the accomplishment and a twinge of sadness as you welcome a new stage while simultaneously knowing there's no going back.
This past weekend my baby boy spent his first ever night away from home- a trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house. It's an experience I never got to have as a child so while I was thrilled for him, I still couldn't hold back the tears as I packed up his little Elmo suitcase. And once he left, once the unfamiliar sound of silence took over the house, I was more than a little bit lost.
I realize now that for the past two years I've subconsciously defined myself through my children. New Mom. Working Mom. Busy Mom. Mom of Two. Somewhat reluctant Stay at Home Mom? But as our children grow ever more independent we're forced to confront ourselves as ourselves. When you strip away the "Mom" or "Mommy" or "Mama" what remains? In my case, it's loneliness.
With the hectic noise of daily life it's been all too easy to drown out the truth, but somewhere between leaving my job, moving away from friends and family and a series of seemingly endless sleepless nights I've found myself isolated from pretty much everyone and everything I once knew. I haven't had the time or the inclination to make new friends (not the easiest task when you're in your mid-30s and one of the only "Career Women" on the block) and my husband and I have forgotten what it's like to talk about anything other than the kids. As difficult as it is to constantly be Mom, right now it's even harder to be Mona, and that's not healthy. So as my children slowly develop their independence, I'll have to find time to work on my own. No one ever said growing up was easy.