The other day, my youngest son told me he doesn't like it when I call him Butter Bean. It's a nickname I gave him when he was 1 and had chubby, shiny cheeks. He used to love that name. It used to make him laugh. It has been so long since I've called him by his real name (unless I mean business) that it feels odd to me to honor his wish and call him Jack.
But now, as he's going to be 12 this year, he told me a few times this week his name is Jack, not Butter Bean, and that's what he would like to be called. This summer, he also pulled away from me for the first time while I gave him a kiss in public.
"That's fine for when we are home, Mom, but please don't do it when we are around people" were his exact words. They stung more than I can explain.
He's the last of my three to pull away from me in this way. Somehow it doesn't get easier with each child—it gets harder. When my oldest did this, it came on fast and strong. I wasn't expecting it. Moms never are. It was obvious he was needing to take a step back, and though it's normal behavior and not really about me, I am his mother and I took it personally.
That's the hardest part: The not knowing, the missing, the changing.
When they are little, you are loved—smothered, even. You sometimes need to come up for air because everyone needs their space and taking a break when you are a mom is necessary for survival. But then those little kids that need you so much end up pulling away completely.
You could be holding hands with them as you cross the street on a Saturday and have no idea it would be the last time they allowed you to hold their hands.
Maybe you made cookies and brought them into school for their birthday, but it ended up being the last year they wanted you to do that, too.
Or, you were nursing them at 1 a.m., looking out at the moonlight, longing to sleep through the night, then realize a few months later that it was the last time. And, now, here you are, missing those sleepy evenings when you would stumble into their room to feed them.
When they sit on your lap or crawl in bed with you in the middle of the night, you have no idea if it will be the last time.
As a seasoned mom, who really doesn't know what I'm doing day in and day out because my kids' needs are constantly changing, I want you to know that's the hardest part: the not-knowing, the missing, the changing.
I know you hear things like "little kids, little problems" and "cherish every moment" all the time, and it doesn't really register because you have not come out on the other side yet. But I say, don't try and enjoy all the moments. That's impossible. Just be aware that today may be the last day your baby wants to nurse. It may be the last time they need you to lie down with them so they can fall asleep. It may be the last year they want you to stand next to them as they get their hair cut.
It's funny how the same moments that make us want our child to be a bit more independent can make us the most nostalgic when those moments are over.
But, when you feel a piece of you is missing because you are longing for the way your child used to need you to fall asleep, remember this: You have a plethora of firsts waiting for you.
There will come a day when they start thanking you for all you've done.
There will be the first time they ask you for relationship advice and you will feel deeply connected to them.
There will come a time when they surprise you with a Mother's Day gift they bought you themselves.
There will be a day you aren't feeling well and they will see you—really see you. You will look up from the sofa to see them heating you up some soup and taking care of the dishes.
And it will make you feel wonderful.
These firsts will come, just as the others did. The painful lasts will fade a little, even though they are our strongest reminder of how quickly things change. One day, our kids will be off on their own and we will fall into another rhythm before it changes on us again.
Remember there is another first coming around the corner, I promise. Hopefully, just knowing that will make those transitions a little easier.