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What A Mother Misses

As careful as I am to steer clear of all sentimentality, when The Swaddle tweeted, “What will you miss, ten years from now?” I foolhardily jumped into that thought process. After all, there are days when I yearn for the empty nest of the future. In ten years, my children will be 24, 20 and 15. So, I step outside the hurly-burly for a minute to reluctantly look back.

To be absolutely honest, as a mother, there’s a huge list of things I’m glad I will never have to do again. Be pregnant. Give birth. Breastfeed through the night. Get first-degree burns from sterilizing bottles with boiling water in hotel rooms. Puree hot food while baby screams. I don’t want to be in charge of another sippy-cup or diaper or teething rattle. I don’t want to hear a ghostly ABCD song drawl from a Fisher Price toy whose batteries are running low. I will NEVER breastfeed in the waiting room of an Indian airport again. In fact, if I see a nursing bra or a peplum top, I will call the government and have them send a HazMat team to dispose of them.

But do I dare begin to look at what I will miss?

Everyone misses that milky, delectable, freshly-made-human smell babies naturally have. Their fat, never-used feet from before they start walking. Gummy smiles. The way the tops of their heads feel when you bury your face in them. When I weaned my eldest, I was surprised at my melancholy. I’d found breastfeeding an absolute burden. But there would be no replacing the feeling of a baby rooting around and then palpably relaxing into her mother’s body, as if suddenly conscious of some soothing, primal lullaby transmitted through the skin.

They don’t scream anymore when the answer to “What’s for lunch, mum?” is me, calmly looking at them, fork in hand, slurping, “You, my delicious darling.” They don’t need me to braid their hair or tie their shoelaces. A major bastion fell the other day when the youngest told me, after bringing his finger boo-boo for inspection, “It doesn’t really feel better when you kiss it, mama, but you can kiss it, if you want. Need a Band-Aid though.”

I regret very few things as much as not recording them eat their first piece of chocolate (their expressions—like people enlightened). One of the most rewarding parts of being a parent is showing your kids the world. (This has almost nothing to do with buying plane tickets.) You’ll notice all parents of young children pointing, sharing, explaining. We love to do it! For a few years, you are Rafiki, holding Simba up to the realm, saying … Look! All you can see, I can tell you about. (And if I don’t know, I am not ashamed to Google.)

The sheer delight in showing them a white onion, a green apple or a red banana! Wrestling them away from eating all the carpaccio. Nervous giggles watching them take their first horse ride or bump noses with a seal. Taking their armbands off and holding your breath as they flounder and then … swim. Explaining the meaning of the word ‘erotica’ to them because you took the wrong route in Zurich and, well, there it was, everywhere, in neon! (With a straight face, say, “Oh, it’s sort of a grown-up art form, celebrating the human body.”)

As they get older the firsts are not as obvious. That first perfect song played on the guitar doesn’t seem as momentous as the first time they turn over. A (silver) medal for singing pales to the memory of their first star drawn in pen by the playschool teacher.

And suddenly… I know that is what I will miss.

Every day – and I keep reminding myself that this is part of the plan – I see fewer and fewer ‘firsts.’ Oh, they’re still happening. But I’m not around to witness all of them. And what breaks my heart a little is admitting that the baby-firsts were my firsts as well. Shared firsts. Every day they need me less, physically. Soon, they will need me less, emotionally.

Some nights the children congregate on our bed, and we talk or play silly word games (until one of them gets up in a huff and stalks off dramatically). I complain loudly, saying that it feels too much like Dadar station, the crowds, the chatter, pointy elbows in your squishy bits. But it is only to disguise the rising panic that any day now, they will be 24, 20 and 15. Amidst the scrum, I feel my usually stoic 14-year-old push her head into the crook of my arm. For one heavy, heart-stopping moment, I feel her entire body relax.

“What will you miss?” is a little like that interview question, “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?” If I do my job as a parent well, then I see myself turning my empty nest into a glamorous base for all my adventures as an older woman. But I will miss these three small people coming off the school bus at me, at a 100 mamas-a-minute. Soon, all that will be left, will be to watch their first steps away from my dingdong, sentimental heart.

I can’t see 10 years into the future anyway, OK. My silly eyes are tearing up.

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