And then suddenly, he was a boy.

I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about  a lot of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life.  I don’t necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly not in the way that maybe the mother of multiples does watching her last baby graduate from infancy to the front steps of her kindergarten classroom –  in what feels like the space of overnight. Three years in, I basically still don’t really have a clear reference for time. I know that there was life before my son, but it’s kind of hard to believe that it actually existed – since what could I have possibly done with all of that free time ?? I am fairly certain I wouldn’t recognize that 31 year old girl if she showed up on my doorstep much less relate to her (what does she DO with all of that free time?) I’ll be honest, its all a little fuzzy and not totally unlike the feeling of having been on a drug trip for the last few years. Except that, unlike the consequences of unrestrained drinking, some really great things have happened.

The bittersweetness of common landmarks have bypassed me: walking, talking, sleeping in his own bed, going to daycare, potty training, etc.  Babyhood was hard for us, this stage feels lighter – maybe that is a big part of it. Or maybe that he is my first and only kid. I know it’s a precious and fleeting time. And if ever I forget,  there is someone to remind me everywhere I go and at every chance, how fast it all goes and how much I will miss it when it’s gone. Thank you, stranger in the check-out line, for letting me know essentially, that I am guaranteed to feel shitty later thinking about how I should be happier right now in this moment which will invariably become gold-plated in my memory minus all the real-life messiness, strain and sleep-deprivation….. that I will revisit when I am much older, sipping my tea in my quiet house with piles of books around and art supplies and projects that I don’t ever have to clean up because no one’s going to touch my stuff, and I have the whole weekend ahead of me to putter around and not cook for anyone and stay up as late as I want and my son is all grown up and living his own adventures. Is it then that I will have the hubris to volunteer my advice to the bleary-eyed mother struggling with her colicky infant in the line at the post office, reminding her that she must appreciate this time more than she is?

We always feel wistful for what is behind. The past is like an Instagram account with flattering filters to highlight all of the high moments and delete of the bad days and unflattering parts of our experience. I want to capture it all, see it all, remember it all for what it really was. I know it’s not possible, for our memory does it’s own editing. But the more present we can be in any given experience, with all the of the complexity and paradox, the richer the story becomes. And it’s not a story anyone else gets to tell but you. So can you lovingly fuck off please, lady at the grocery store. Go tell your own story.

At every stage of my son’s increasing autonomy I cheer him on, marveling at the passage of months gone, feeling a sense of satisfaction that he is finding his footing in this world – as they really do kind of with or without or in spite of me at all.  Often my partner and I will look at each other with some variation of, “Can you believe …?” But I’m still the one without a lot of nostalgia about it. Maybe because I am the primary one between the two of us deep in the trenches of the real, messy, raw reality of day to day parenting. And at the same time managing elusive and unrelenting health issues. I am just trying to stay alive. There hardly seems space to do anything else.

Anyway, we decided recently it was time to cut his hair. It’s wild, unruly, a battle to wash and comb through and people have been mistaking him for a girl. We’d been getting comments for awhile from his grandpa (seriously dude, what makes you SO uncomfortable with a toddler’s hair?) which was really irritating because it starting making my son self-conscious. I was a little scared though because I had been warned that the ringlets he inherited from neither his father or myself, would most likely disappear with the first cut. (Literally, EVERYBODY has told me that). But my son was excited. His first haircut! We promised ice cream afterward.

She didn’t even take off that much. Just a trim. He looked so big sitting up in the chair.

And as soon as I watched those first strands fall to the floor, I wanted to cry.

He sat very still and when she was finished he saw himself in the mirror and smiled with pride. We went to ice cream.

And I just could not look at him without tears spilling over. Just like that, everything had changed. The baby had disappeared. He was a boy.

My heart was gripped with the realization that we’d crossed a threshold. There was no going back. I tried hard not to let my son pick up on my feelings. “It will grow back again,” my partner reassures me when we are alone.

“No,” I say, “everything’s different.”

I was unprepared for the level of emotional reaction I had. Of course I know, it’s just hair. It will grow. It will be whatever it will be, curls or not. But is these such landmarks, the ones that don’t just naturally happen on their own but require the diligent, careful eye; the sense to know when it’s time to gently remove the scaffolding, the lovey, the comfort habit that has outgrown its service, the training wheels that have lingered past their usefulness. And no matter how much you might want to hold on to it for what it represents –  it is these moments of stepping in to move forward the hand of time when only you can and must, that cause the heart to waver. It is these pivotal moments, some without as much fanfare as a haircut, that come and go in the most ordinary way and yet leave behind a profound imprint of what parenthood is again and again, the letting go. It is the thoughts that buzz around like a mosquito in your darkened bedroom as you lie awake and  throw up a prayer for the twenty-seventh time that you did the right thing . Because even though you might know it was, it still pangs.

Like knowing it was the last time I would breastfeed my son.  The moment I decided I was through pumping. Breastfeeding was complicated, arduous and emotionally wrought for us. Weening was something I had to accept long before I had wanted to. Though it was clearly the best choice for both of us, I still remember that quiet moment, in the dark, with my baby beside me, when I decided to let my body be done. It’s the Instagram reel without the filters, full of the raw emotion of what it really means to be a mother.  In yogic philosophy there is a name for this letting go again and again: aparigraha, the principle of non attachment.  Over and over again, we watch for the signs for when it’s time to let go a little bit more, when it is time to release our attachment to the current story and let the next chapter begin.

“Motherhood is at once an exercise in unwavering fortitude and complete surrender.”  (Read: Suspended in a State of Mommyhood. I’m serious, if you are  a mother or a young parent, you’ve really got to read this. Go, right now.)

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2 thoughts on “And then suddenly, he was a boy.

  1. I can’t even tell you why, but my heart can hardly bear that photo. I can’t stop looking at it even though I feel a deep ache inside when I do. I remember….what you’ve written here, I remember. And Karina Mackenzie is exactly right…very simple, very difficult. Takes massive effort sometimes and the only thing that frees you.


  2. Yes. Yes. Yes. You always say what i wish I would have said when I could have said it in just the way I wanted to have said it. I love your words and your perspective. xo

    On Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 7:42 PM, uncharted ground wrote:

    > Annabele posted: “I have been pretty unsentimental, I guess, about a lot > of the milestones so far in my son’s almost-three years of life. I don’t > necessarily feel the pang of being needed less as time goes on, certainly > not in the way that maybe the mother of three does,” >


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