Out of the Land of Littles
Wren and Sam, nine and seven, hop out of the minivan and make their way to day camp. They are only gone for three hours each morning, but this is enough time for me to spend with Asher and Eowyn, the youngest and twins. Coming up on their fifth birthday, they ask to be taken to the library where they play in the reading railroad with the six and under crew for another year.
Asher drops a tennis ball down a movable ramp, a STEM activity, and I survey our surroundings. I recall bringing the girls when they were toddlers in footy pajamas, hovering over them so the supposed giant five-year olds didn’t knock them over. Now, my girls are the oldest. There are only babies, toddlers, and hovering moms as far as the eye can see.
“Watch out for the smaller kids,” I hear myself say as they rush to different play areas.
Another mom catches my eye. Asher offers her son a tennis ball to play with, and in response he only nods.
“How old is he?” I ask, an easy question between moms.
“He’s walking really well,” I say as he moves steadily to his destination.
“Well, he’s not talking, but I think it’s okay. I’m not sure it’s okay,” she hesitates while looking down at her son, and I remember how those early years felt like being a walking confessional. “He’s my first.”
“The milestone markers are averages. They’re just there to stress us out while we’re sleep deprived,” I encourage.
She smiles, worry still etched across her face. “I hope so. I told his doctor, but we’re taking a wait-and-see approach.”
I nod and don’t warn her that that particular approach is the majority of parenting.
I don’t have these concerns anymore, though I have plenty of others. We are where there’s a baseline for normal for the most part, and I am getting more sleep than I have in almost a decade.
My mind gives a silent relieved sigh that we are out of that phase, the baby and toddler years behind us, before I remember I have sore boobs, bloating, and no desire to eat, symptoms of both PMS and pregnancy. I am five days late.
“What if this happened?” I ask my husband that night as we get ready for bed.
“I did something to ensure it couldn’t,” he says, referring to the vasectomy he underwent years ago. “It didn’t happen.”
“It’s not impossible,” I remind him.
“But can we agree that it’s highly unlikely?”
I nod, but the next day I vacillate between disbelief and a mild acceptance. A boy would be Henry, a girl Alice. But do I want another baby to name and raise when we are finally out of the land of littles?
Throughout the day, a woman floats to my memory like a ghost from the mist, though I never even knew her name. She sat in the Barnes and Noble children’s section, pregnant and overflowing with warmth, four kids playing in front of her. Wren was two and newly diagnosed with Celiac disease, and Sam was an infant who recently recovered from a near death brush with pneumonia. I was struggling, and just as Wren made friends with this woman’s kids to play, Sam started crying, the breastmilk I offered not enough to calm him down.
“Wren, we have two minutes,” I warned.
Her eyes registered a mixture of disappointment and disgust, and that’s when the Zen mama glanced my way.
“How old is she?”
“Two,” I answered, both wanting to socialize and hide at the same time. “Are they all yours?” I gestured to the train table.
“Yeah, with number five on the way any day.” She was jubilant.
“Wow. I want more, but…” I trailed off, tears burning my eyes, never finishing with the truth: but I’m not sure I can handle it. I’m not good at this like I thought I would be.
She said nothing, so I started trying to round up Wren, who whined her dissatisfaction all the way out the door, the sound mixing with her brother’s cries to create a melody that signaled my failure as a mother.
Two kids later, we’re years away from that memory and it still holds the power to sting. I can’t help but wonder if I will be that dazzling woman pregnant with my fifth or the frazzled mess I was all those years ago. I just now have my feet on the ground, my equilibrium intact. What happens next?
It’s a couple of days after the conversation with my husband, and we’re at a local library grabbing our weekly picks.
“So this is what it looks like,” I hear from in front of me, though I was too involved in reading Sam a book to notice we were being watched. I look up to find a woman with a preschooler wrapped around her leg, a toddler sitting sullenly on the floor, and a newborn perched on her hip.
“When they get older, when you make it to where you are on the journey. Peaceful,” she answers, gesturing with her hand to where we’re sitting. I look to each side and see all of my kids sitting on this low, long window sill around me, reading or playing with puppets. They are focused and engaged. In this woman’s mind, we are picturesque.
I look back into her eyes and am reminded of myself in Barnes and Noble all those years ago. Though this woman isn’t publicly weeping, she has the same stare full of disbelief that there is a future where mom doesn’t look torn to bits and covered with baby food.
I don’t want to utter the words it goes by so fast because I hated it when people told me that in the early days. Sleep deprivation does not go by quickly. Loneliness and isolation, even when you are never technically alone or isolated, lasts forever. Worrying about the early milestones is a seemingly endless job.
But here I am, having started my period an hour ago, happy for where we are on our journey and still coming to terms with the knowledge that we can’t go back. There are no do overs. There will be no more babies. The days are long but the years are short, and there’s still no way to understand that in the moment.
“We have a lot more mobility now,” I say weakly.
“That will be great. We just now got this one potty trained,” she says, looking down at the toddler, then she breathlessly tries to herd them all to the door, cries and protests accompanying her.
I take one more look around at my school-aged kids and this momentary visual of serenity before recalling her words: so this is what it looks like. So it is.
Kristy Ramirez writes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, love letters and grocery lists. Her work has appeared online in Literary Mama, Dodging the Rain, and SheLoves Magazine, among other places. She lives in Texas with her husband and four children. You can find her on Twitter.