As a parent, there is something so special about pictures and videos of our children. Most of the time they are taken with our phones, sometimes at bad angles and even blurry at other times. These pictures and videos are priceless, despite being less than perfect.
My phone is filled with my most precious memories. Pictures from their first tastes of foods to their first steps, pictures of them sleeping peacefully, and trying on my high heels. These pictures become a timeline of their lives. As I update the baby books, I carefully check when I took each picture to make sure I am getting the dates just right. I feel a slight pang of sadness as I document each milestone we have reached. As I get further down the list, all the dates are filling in, rolling over, first tooth, first steps, first word, all now in the past. It feels like barely any time has passed, but the weeks and months are flying by just as everyone warned they would.
I walked into Henley’s room after nap one afternoon. She was around seven months old and had pulled herself to a standing position. I was mostly happy, but also a little sad this had snuck up on me so quickly. “Already pulling herself up?” I thought. “What happened to that tiny 7-pound baby I held just months ago?” Another checked off milestone in the baby book.
These are the milestones all baby books have blanks for but what about the milestones no one warns you about? The ones happening long after the baby book is completed and tucked away on the shelf. The ones that tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes when you least expect it.
Macie, two years old, runs into her classroom with open arms. She jumps into her teacher’s lap and gives her a big squeeze around the neck. She loves Ms. Ella, often referring to her as her best friend. She proudly shows off her Elsa dress and then quickly joins another child at the toys, without even a glance back. “Bye Macie” I say more than once, trying to get her attention. Her teacher pushes for her to give me a goodbye. She runs over for a quick hug and kiss, turning around immediately to return to her friend.
Just a few weeks ago, Macie had been clinging to my leg, hesitant to let go and join the others. The frustration mounting as I realized I would inevitably be late for work once again. I leave the daycare feeling sad and frustrated, tears in my eyes as I heard her cry for me down the hallway. Transitions have always been tough for her, she never deals well with changes to a new room or a new teacher. I had wished these drop-offs would get easier, but I had no idea how heartbreaking they would be when they did. I find myself tearing up once again as I leave, but this time for a different reason.
The house is unusually quiet being that somewhere within it are two young children at play. I hear a toilet flush and immediately run into the bathroom, sure to find Macie had flushed something she should not have. I fully expected to see water everywhere. At two and a half she is frequently found getting into something she shouldn’t. Instead, I find her standing on a stool, lathering her hands with soap. “Water please mama,” she casually says. I turn on the faucet and watch her rinse and dry her hands. “Did you wipe?” I ask. “Yep” she says as she runs to join her sister playing in the other room, leaving me in awe of this little person she is turning into. It takes me a minute to process what just happened.
We are standing in line for a show at Disney World. There is a little girl behind us, close in age to Henley, around four. She is clinging tightly to her mother and appears to be shy. Eventually warming up to Henley, they begin to talk. We are ushered to our seats and are waiting for the show to start; Henley’s new friend is sitting directly behind us. Henley is bouncing on the seat, walking around, and chatting as most kids do during a lull in entertainment. As she turns around in her seat, she slips and falls, knocking her head on the metal bench in front of us. She hit it hard. I ask if she is ok as I am trying to get her up and into my arms. She looks at me stoically, her eyes welling up with tears and her lips taut and quivering. The little girl sitting behind us asks if she is ok, Henley says nothing. It appears if she opens her mouth to speak, even just one word, she will burst into tears. It pains me seeing her holding it all in. I can feel the embarrassment radiating from her. I want to hold her. I want to rub her head, tell her everything will be ok. I want to take this embarrassment from her and assure her it is no big deal. She is being so strong, it almost breaks me. I look over at her periodically throughout the show, my heart breaking. I cannot get the look on her face out of my head.
When we are pregnant, we hear about all the milestones to expect in the upcoming months. We know one day our squishy, little babies will soon be walking, talking toddlers. We know these toddlers will turn into school-aged children that will eventually become sassy teenagers. We know all of this, yet are still surprised when faced with signs of these new phases. We are blindsided when they use the restroom on their own, get their own food out of the cabinet, or put on their shoes. We celebrate when they learn to brush their teeth and actually spit the toothpaste out, instead of ingesting it all.
These are the unexpected milestones nobody warned me about and they get me every time. The frustration of feeling constantly needed quickly fading away to the painful thought of no longer being needed in that way. Feeling proud at the little people they are becoming, but not without some heartbreak at the babies they no longer are.
These are milestones unlike the others. There are no blanks in a book to be filled in. No pictures posted of them helping themselves to a snack in the fridge. No congratulatory comments or texts from friends. These moments sit uncomfortably within us and make us look ahead to the life we will soon be living: a life with kids that no longer want their moms in the bathroom with them and that buckle themselves in their car seats. Kids that have feelings of sadness or embarrassment that are not only felt, but clearly communicated.
We may not have seen these unexpected milestones coming, but we will never forget they happened. We will forever have these memories of the moments we were equally proud and surprised by the children we are raising.