Updated: Jun 1, 2022
You know how there are times when you feel like things will last forever even though you know they won’t? When you get into a routine, and take it all for granted that this is the way things are? Like how I walked to the same school from kindergarten through 6th grade, spent summers at camp, and dinners at the family table. It was my life, until it wasn’t. I was bussed to jr. high and my sister left for college. Inevitably, everything changes.
Similarly, for two straight years on the 21st, I celebrated Autumn’s monthly birthdays. I bought the obligatory package of stickers labeled 1-12 for her first year, and stuck to the routine, singing happy birthday, taking 1,000 photos, ordering one for her baby book, and writing down milestones. At month 11, I wasn’t ready to give up the tradition, so I purchased 12 more stickers and a toddler book.
And then the other day, I woke up, and it was month 25. Before getting out of bed, I began frantically searching online for another year of adhesives.
With several tears, I greeted my mom in the doorway.
“It’s the first month there isn’t a sticker.”
She laughed at my silliness, then offered sympathy.
“Just be glad you had the time with her,” she said.
I thought about making a sign, but wondered if I did, when it would end. Did I want her holding up 216-months on her 18th birthday? I’m already going to be older than most of her friends’ moms, did I want to be that much un-cooler?
I defend my neurosis surrounding monthly milestones as survival for Autumn’s first 16 months. Isolated from COVID with a newborn living in my parents’ house while on maternity leave, I found purpose in her baby book, a distraction from the world’s tumult. It gave me a project with a goal, a reason other than nursing and burping to get out of bed. At month 17, I went back to work. Chronicling became another number on my to-do list, but still something consistent in my rapidly changing world.
The era marked by days, then weeks, then months…and now years, has ended. It seems like such a giant leap, to go from counting time every 30-31 days, to 12 months at once. You know that suffocating feeling you get when you go under and take in too much water, and come up coughing, eyes tearing? That’s month 25. You take a deep breath, have that moment, and then keep swimming.
And I realize it’s not the marking of time that upset me, but the fleetingness of it, and the way it always froze when I took pictures. The moments always go, the photos always stay, and the stickers helped make me accountable. They were check-ins, chunking Autumn’s life into manageable pieces, pit stops ensuring documentation.
In class, I teach my 4th graders that the act of writing things down helps you remember, even if you never look back at your notes. I can’t help but wonder whether I subconsciously applied the same theory to my detailed accounts of Autumn.
I posted a photo the other day of Autumn sitting on the bed, hair in a ponytail, flipping through a book, and noted:
I can’t even remember when she was a baby.
Videos pop up on Facebook, memories of an infant, squeaking and jerking, cute at the time, but alien to me now. I don’t recognize her as my daughter, who runs fast and jumps high. And I don’t want to go back. Who she is now is so much more entertaining and fun, but moving forward is still hard.
I think about our new house. The mini chairs in the backyard, the play kitchen in the great room, and the Pooh decal on her wall. All markers of an age and time. Two years ago, it was a motorized swing and breast pump. I take photos, lots of them, my camera the only freezer that doesn’t need electricity. While it doesn’t stop time, it preserves it in moments.
And I vow to keep doing what I did the other day. Autumn wanted to stay at the park, but I heard the voices of reason:
“It’s getting late. What about dinner?” my mom said.
“She probably should be bathed after all that sand,” said my dad.
But the baby swing taunted:
“Soon she’ll outgrow me.”
So I pushed aside what was good for her in order to do what was best—and pushed the swing a little longer.