We remember the firsts of parenting because we have a memory of the time before the firsts: before we became a mother, before we held our baby for the first time, before we had that first sleepless night. Then there are baby’s firsts that we look forward to: the first solid food, the first steps, the first tooth, the first word. We track those momentous first occasions in journals and baby books and on social media.
But what about the lasts? The lasts are harder to mark. We almost never know they’re the lasts because we’re so focused on anticipating the next thing.
I didn’t know my youngest son’s last diaper would be the very last diaper ever until I found an unopened box of diapers in the closet and realized he hadn’t had an accident in his big-boy underwear in over a month. Instead of being thrilled that we were done with diapers, and the mess and logistics that went along with it, I had tears in my eyes. As much as I’d been looking forward to it, we really were done with diapers in our house. The finality of that signaled a new stage in my life: a stage without babies.
The last time my younger son wore the monkey onesie that he’d inherited from his big brother.
The last time they needed a teething toy.
The last time Big Brother called Little Brother "Baby."
The last time my oldest wasn't too big for me to carry him up the stairs.
The last time each of my kids were small enough to fit in the baby swing at the park.
For every new stage, there are a dozen lasts scattered on the path behind us and we have no time to mark them or mourn them because we are racing off to the next first.
But I’m more aware now that some things are slipping away even if I don’t know exactly when they’ll end.
I knew the last night my babies would sleep in their cribs before being moved to their toddler beds. I knew the last day before they each started preschool. But other lasts are harder to predict. Some we don’t even see coming until time has passed.
My kids still believe in Santa Claus but was this past Christmas the last year we will put out cookies and milk for Santa and carrots for the reindeer? Which tooth will be the last tooth left under a pillow for the tooth fairy? How many more times will my sons ask me to sing "You Are My Sunshine" at bedtime?
We can’t stop time, and I don’t even know that I’d want to because there are still so many things to look forward to, but I do wish I had some way of knowing that something, some special moment, is the very last of its kind.
When my kids were babies, so many older moms and grandmothers told me to enjoy every moment while they were young. I laughed, exhausted and maybe even a little annoyed, thinking that no one can enjoy every moment. But I’m more aware now that some things are slipping away even if I don’t know exactly when they’ll end.
“This might be the last time,” a little voice whispers in my head, each time they take my hand when we leave the house or snuggle up on the couch with me during a movie. These are the times I try to be fully in the moment, savoring my little boys holding my hand or sitting in my lap, full of wonder at the magic and adventure of life.
My kids are growing up and for every first, there must be a last. As much as I’m looking forward to their future milestones and accomplishments, sometimes it's hard to accept that they're moving on to a new stage before I'm ready to let go. All I can do is love them and let them grow while honoring the lasts as best as I can.