Today, my son is back at the doctor’s office to figure out why a cough won’t go away. We’re waiting for the nurse to come in, and Aidan sits on the exam table, hands spread in between his thighs and legs dangling over the crinkled paper. I am sitting in the designated Mommy chair across from him and we’re staring quietly at each other, having brought no toys or books to entertain ourselves with. It’s taking a long time. The exam rooms are filled with sick children. Aidan and I made silly faces at each other and have staring contests. We occasionally look away and think our own thoughts, surrounded by a patient silence. He glances out the window, bored but polite. I organize a few things in my pocketbook. I take our my camera and click through the pictures I took that morning of Aidan and his friends on a gloriously autumnal nature walk. Golden sunlight glistens through their windblown hair and crackly leaves fall like snowflakes around them as the boys run into the shimmering forest and out of my camera’s lens. They are mere silhouettes in other shots; dark shadows against the golden landscapes around them. Phantom children - there, but not there. Busy exploring their world as their mothers stay behind on the trail to capture the moment before it is too late.
As more exam table paper crinkles under Aidan’s body, I look up at my son. I am abruptly taken aback at who looks back at me, as if I haven’t noticed all this time. Even though my tiny three-year-old can’t seem to gain weight, get taller, or lose those chubby little chipmunk cheeks he’s had since six months old, he is no longer a baby at all. A little man-child stares back at me and sighs gently as if to say, “this is sure taking a long time, huh?” I snap a picture of him. Something seems memorable enough about this moment to encapsulate on photo. It’s the first time I thought to not join Aidan up on the exam table but rather take my seat across the room as spectator. The distance between us as I sit in the side chair as Aidan is poised alone waiting to be examined evokes deep sentiment from within me. This is a milestone in the making, I think.
I think about the well-checks Aidan had every few months as an infant, and of how my husband would meet me in the doctor’s office after work so we could co-struggle him into complacently long enough for us to listen to the doctor. I remember the two of us trading smiles and baby talk with Aidan on and off synchronically as the other nodded at the nurse. I think of all the equipment I’d pack with me for every doctor visit - Aidan’s beloved stuffed puppy “Gingee,” teething rings to chew on, books to finger through, little crinkly caterpillars to shake around, extra diapers, extra wipes, an extra onesie, that emergency pacifier just in case, a container of Gerber Puffs, a Sippy of ice water, tissues, a yellow Post-It of New Mother questions I jotted down but hesitated actually asking. I remember explaining to the nurses how Aidan was really an angelic baby but just hated confinement, waiting around, and getting his clothes taken on and off as he wailed and flinched as I pulled a pair of overalls around his head. I remember the overwhelming energy expelled from within as I danced and talked and sung around Aidan while we waited and waited in the little exam rooms for the impending nebulizer treatment or weigh-in or vaccine shot. I recall the new-parent terror and slightly-less-new-parent fatigue and universal-parent feeling of judgment in those rooms these last few years. I remember how damn hard everything was. How vulnerable my emotions were. How defensive I became, how sheer exhausting constant childcare used to be.
And as I look up now at my son’s maturing face as he waits for the doctor, sans toys or plastic figurines or entertainment from me, I am struck with how rapidly my season of parenthood seems to be changing. It leaves a sweet and sour taste in my mouth. I’ve always looked forward to Aidan getting older, and never seemed to be able to relate to other mothers who just want to go back to having a newborn in their arms, when everything seemed so sweeter, small, and simple. For us, it was harder, scarier, more intimidating. We grappled with breastfeeding, fought the great gaining weight issue, wrestled teething nightmares, pulled our hair out as we dealt with a newborn who didn’t want to sit still, waded through every sleep concern that ever existed with a baby, and grew antsy and anxious over the pressure to stimulate an infant that seemed to require stimulation constantly. We lamented the loss of our own identities, wondered how the giant rift in our closeness as a couple got there, and questioned if we’d ever be able to escape the dark abyss of new parenthood.
I’ve always grown excited when I think of Aidan getting older and growing up. About having a child that I still parent with 100% spirit and effort, but who is his own man. When I walked into the house we would eventually purchase for the first time, I envisioned Aidan as a teenager and young adult galloping down the stairs and out the front door to get somewhere. That’s how I knew it was our home.
Over the last year and few months, I see signs that my role is changing yet again. I see full-time school out in the horizon and wonder if I will be content still being the full-time, at-home parent I’ve always thought I would be, or if I may not feel that way after all. I hear the nuanced tones changing in my young son’s voice - sarcasm, folly, frustration - as he experiments with talking back to me and complicating every scenario that is put in front of him. I observe him at play with his close friends and am in awe of his leadership skills and immensely imaginative spirit, and of how quickly he can just pick up and go with a friend without introductions and enthusiasm from me. I make peace with the fact that I don’t really know what goes on in preschool each day, and that Aidan has his own agendas, plans, and relationships that I need not be a part of. I notice the pace in my own body slowing as Aidan and I get through each day, and of how I am not needed for putting on shoes, lifting him into the car, and zipping down jackets. I hear a toilet flush upstairs while I am alone in the kitchen and think nothing of it. I don’t worry about booster seats or special cups for milk at restaurants anymore. I walk out of the house with keys and sunglasses and chuckle at how “light my load” has become.
I am watching my son growing into a young boy and eventually his own man and feel a thrill and a relaxation. I am enjoying the slightly-less frazzled pace of motherhood these days. But as I look across at Aidan sitting in the doctor’s office, I’ve overcome with maternal protection. Aidan himself is a fleeting moment in time; a boy-child who still needs so much, but who is growing so independent. I try to quickly take note of the peach fuzz on his upper lip, which will be replaced by real hair one day. I put to memory the lines of his round face and cheeks, still soft and supple like a newborn’s. They will never be like this again. And I will never be like this again - the mother of an emerging little boy, both of us on the cusp of a new way of life. We are an axis; two partners orbiting around each other in our own self-molding. I realize it is not about relishing one phase of life or capturing our child’s moments in time with photos or sentiments or memories, but about finding the beauty in the unfolding and ever-changing evolutions. It is not letting go, or holding on, or what season of parenthood is harder or easier. It’s the unraveling of everything we thought we knew and the newfound truths we unearth from beneath and beyond.