By Sarah Kovatch
I’m at an evening gathering on a friend’s pretty patio and I’m holding someone’s new baby over my shoulder. We mothers chat in a circle around a butcher block piled with cheese and meat while our kids run barefoot in the yard. A string of white lights makes our faces glow. At eight and six, my children are the “old ones” here. Even though it’s been a while, the way my body responds to an infant is as natural as blinking.
My muscle-memory clicks into gear as I shift the baby’s tiny body from my shoulder to the cradle of my arms. It’s a subtle gesture—like a quick dance step—my hands must have carried out a billion times when my children were babies to get them “just right.”
The gesture makes those memories bloom and my 29-year-old-self flashes back: I’m sitting on our balcony with our first baby, trying different positions to soothe and pass the time. I remember my ratty but beloved black tunic-tee-shirt I wore on repeat with a pair of leggings during those jet-lagged mornings of early motherhood. I remember the silence of being alone all day with a baby. Sometimes I’d talk for the sake of talking: Look at the trees; listen to the birds. I’m here baby, I’m here.
Sometimes in motherhood, “I’m here” was and still is all I’m able to offer.
The baby is asleep in my arms and I feel the way an athlete must feel doing a warm up drill. It’s a cinch. This is my body’s earned wisdom. I drink in the cocktail of my ease and confidence and the infant’s sweet softness. I inhale the night air, sink into the wicker chair, and listen to my bigger kids whoop and chase.
“Think you’ll have another?” someone asks from the circle of moms. This question comes up often these days, a little wink of a reminder that I still appear child-beary to the eyes of the world. It’s a question that boldly implies the sweatiness of sex, the bloodiness of labor, shocked family members, pinched finances, and possibly even house-hunting. The other parents chuckle at me on the spot like I’m some kind of blushing bride.
“Nope,” I say, chuckling along with them. I rub the baby’s tummy and throw the question back to the group. “…And how ‘bout you all?”
Everyone looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Resounding, “Hell No’s,” all around.
“So! Done!” Someone punctuates.
I too have chosen to be done, but every time I say so, I’m not 100% comfortable with the finality of it. I can feel something in my body twitch in protest like: you don’t mean it that way.
The truth is, I would love to be a mother of three. Not because I particularly miss the baby-days, but because I like the long-term view. I have a daydream of having lots of grown children crowded around a holiday table. I admire big families and like the idea of having my own. There’s just an ever-so-slight pang: a tug.
It’s not my only tug. I have a strong tug to write a book. I have a strong tug to build a career on my terms and be my own boss. I’ve decided not to act on the 3rd kid tug, but I have to greet it now and then. It’s one of the many paintings I pass as I wander through the rooms of my heart.
I’m always trying to figure out what life is teaching me… Maybe people keep asking me for a reason. Maybe I’m meant to declare it publically to make peace and move on.
“I have enough,” I tell my friends, which is the mantra I silently recite whenever I feel the tug. I have enough, I have enough, I have enough.
It’s hard to admit this, but I also feel old and used up when I think that my body is finished with its job of reproducing. It makes me want to hold on. Baby-making happened in my late 20s and early 30s and now the chapter is done. My belly will never again grow with a wriggling kicking life. My breasts will never again feel heavy with milk. I’ll never again sweat through labor wrecked and triumphant.
On one hand, what a relief! There’s liberation to be uncovered in each choice, in each chapter’s end.
A pod of barefoot children surges through the grownup circle and raids the cracker and cheese pile. Angus leads their charge. My boy. I smile. My heart swells seeing him pop up in the context of a party. He looks purely himself: flushed cheeks, dirty knees, Davey Crockett coonskin hat, and dragging an oversized palm frond behind him. He’s soaking up being Alpha Dog in a pack of kids younger than him.
“HUNGRY!” he announces, pouncing on me with his hands on my shoulders, his nose to my nose. He never approaches, he attacks.
“Gentle! The Baby!” I say, and “Ow, my hair!” I force a laugh and it helps the air between us. My personal goal is to be more light-hearted with him instead of always so mom-stern, but it’s a constant test of my patience. “The burgers will be off the grill soon,” I reassure him. “Have some carrot sticks.”
Angus’s 9th birthday is around the corner and I sense a growth spurt in his energy. His force field is bigger, broader, stronger, and casting a wider range. I take note of a greater oomph as he bounds down a staircase or bursts through a doorway.
I can detect his invisible energy growing in the same way I can detect a more palpable growth spurt—like when I kiss the top of his head and realize he’s a little taller. It sends an unsettling vibration through me. Unsettling because there’s no going backwards with this stuff. The minute it changes, it’s changed. A reminder, like a poke awake, that you can’t relax into anything too long.
Angus attacks the crudités with a grubby paw and devours a handful of carrot sticks like a tree-mulcher. I laugh for real this time. He eats anything and it cracks me up.
Suddenly, my legs feel twitchy and I’m ready to be hands-free again. I give the baby back to his mother. What I keep is a boost of self-possession and sturdiness from my memories of having been there, done that, and survived.
A helicopter passes overhead with its bass thrum. The adults glance up briefly. One of the wee-ones in the kid-pod jabs his chubby finger skyward and shouts, “’COPTER!” with gusto.
My eyes dart to Angus beside me who stares at the helicopter with his furrowed brow thinking his own thoughts. His sister is behind him, whispering with another little girl. My children used to point and label helicopters, planes, and trains. Angus was once obsessed with garbage trucks. But they’ve moved on.
We move on together. I keep apace alongside them with each passing phase wearing the same wondrous expression on my face every time as though it’s all brand new to me too, blowing my mind. Many times, it is. These days they’re in a Star Wars phase, and they tally up Teslas when we’re on the freeway. But choppers and choo-choos? They’re simply So Done.