Today was one of those bittersweet days of parenting, when the firsts and lasts all crash into each other at once, and you’re left wondering what happened to the newborn you brought home.
Perhaps I should have seen it coming when S successfully (and quietly?) managed to eat his entire breakfast without my once having to yell NO SPOON ON YOUR HEAD! PUT THE SPOON IN YOUR BOWL, NOT IN YOUR HAIR! FOR THE ZILLIONTH TIME!
In the midst of the morning flurry, I suddenly looked up from loading the dishwasher and realized his bowl of cereal was nearly gone. After months of coaxing and cajoling that child to just please, for the love of God and all the saints in heaven, use the blasted spoon in a semi-correct manner, he did it all by himself. When I wasn’t looking. Of course. A first.
I should have known.
Already celebrating this small victory, I raced S off to his room to change him before our toddler class. When I suddenly realized it was not only the last class before the summer break, but it was also the last class we’d ever go to together, just the two of us.
Next fall I’ll be lugging that infant carrier around again, and the three-ring circus of our daily attempts to leave the house will become even more chaotic. Suddenly the time seemed to be slipping away in front of me. I wanted to hold on to our right-now life for just a moment more. A last.
My sentimental pause (and the disappearance of someone’s shoes) cost us precious time as the clock ticked down, so in no time I found myself racing us to the school building. When suddenly, from the back seat I heard S singing to himself, “ECFE, ECFE, ECFE…” I paused at the red light. “Well, yes, S,” I replied, shocked. “That’s exactly where we’re going.”
To ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education). Which, hitherto, had always been referred to by S as “eee-eee” or finally “E-C-F” – but never the full acronym. Of course he would figure it out on the last day of class. A first and a last.
Nostalgia must have been in the air this morning, because other moms made similar remarks as we watched our kids run and play. “Can you believe how much they’ve grown and learned in just a year?” one said, wistfully. “At that one-year old class, they just sat like blobs!”
I watched S roam around the classroom, playing on his own and interacting with other kids. He didn’t cling to me or check back in to make sure I hadn’t disappeared.
And then he did something he’d never done before. He walked over and sat down at the art table, then looked up at me expectantly as if to say, “What are you waiting for?” Are you kidding me, child? Has your art-loving mama not been trying to coax you to paint for MONTHS in this class?
I laughed to myself, pulled the smock over his head, and handed him the paintbrush. He went to town, smashing the bristles all over the cream paper. Once the page was filled with a mess of blue strokes to make any abstract expressionist proud, he declared himself to be all done. A fridge-worthy painting to take home. A first.
This afternoon on a sunny May walk, I thought about firsts and lasts. Their poignancy is all around me these days, as we look ahead to the baby’s arrival.
All the firsts will start again. And yet there are lasts that always brush up right behind them. The last day we’ll have as a family of three. The last time I’ll kiss just one child goodnight. The last time I’ll feel this small one kick and dance inside.
My mothering spirit wondered what God thinks about firsts and lasts. God is at once ancient and ever-new. God makes all things new. God watches our beginnings and our endings.
Much like a parent, God witnesses all the firsts and the lasts. Perhaps the difference is that God sees their long arc as Good, holds all the joys and sorrows together in one loving embrace of what it means for us to be human.
We are the ones who struggle to change, to let go, to move on, to accept the new. Even when we know, deep down, that it must be good.