Mothers, treasure the ‘lasts’

“The last time when you ran to me, still small enough to hold. The last time that you said you’d marry me when you grew old. Precious, simple moments and bright flashes from your past—would I have held on longer if I’d known they were your last? —Karen Kingsbury

I have a friend with a newborn baby. She’s understandably tired, anxious and stressed. I have another who’s “baby” is entering his first year of school. She’s tired, anxious and stressed too. Then there’s me with one starting middle school and another only months away from wearing a cap and gown. I’m leaning toward anxious and stressed myself.

Three moms in three stages, recycling familiar emotions again and again.

These things just happen, a loosely predictable string of crayons, diaper rashes, tricycles, bruises, colds, friends, emotions, attitudes, jealousy, dates, and of course the days and nights of crying.

First the baby’s, then yours. Then the turbulent middle schooler’s, then yours. Then the dejected teenager’s, then yours. Always yours.

But one after the next, they pass.

Author Karen Kingsbury wrote a children’s picture book called “Let Me Hold You Longer.” This one can serve all parents. It’s one of the best—right up there on the “awww” scale with Robert Munsch’s “Love You Forever”—for a brand new mommy or one watching over sweet little faces playing on the floor with puzzles and blocks.

It’s also good for any mom, mother, Evil One, or whatever the current perception is, who, right this very minute, is on the outskirts of their mind due to any baby, sweet or sour-faced, of any age.

It’s not about the “firsts,” which are carefully logged in a scrapbook or videotaped for future reminiscing or blackmail. It’s a warning about those elusive “lasts” that we surely won’t recognize until after the fact. The little things we wouldn’t pick up on until we are either, one, slightly more experienced or two, warned by someone who knows they’re getting closer.

Children’s books like this are as much (or more) for the parents as the kids. I don’t just believe they’re fun reads with a cute lesson thrown in. I count on it. They’re mini instruction manuals for understanding how to recognize and prepare for the sneaky sad and subtle endings that we inadvertently pray for in the crazy chaos.

We ultimately get what we ask for. Like the night your fidgety toddler goes to sleep alone, without being rocked. Or the day you realize your former shadow spends more time in her bedroom than on your heels. And eventually, as is looming intimidatingly close in my case, when one of them empties their room to furnish their dorm or apartment.

We expect to fall in love with these new freedoms and to feel a little lighter, not weighed down by a blanket of motherly emotions all over again. We think we can handle being needed a little less than before. But instead here we go again: tired, anxious and stressed.

Another author, J.D. Salinger, wisely wrote: “Mothers are all slightly insane.”

They have to be. The role is far too hazardous for the sane ones.

This column is a revised version from Aug. 8, 2007, when my children were much younger. The only things that have changed are their ages. I’d still like to hold them a little longer.

Shelley Plett is a graphic designer for the Free Press and Kansas Publishing Ventures. She can be reached at shelley@hillsborofree­press.com. This column first appeared in a previous issue.