It's in this moment I have to explain -- or try to, rather -- to my four and a half year old child what immense, unrelenting love and pride feels like. Inexplicable joy. Honor beyond measurement. He asks me if it means I feel a little sad when he gets older. "It's not sadness," I try to explain to a child who wakes at four in the morning wondering what Dr. Seuss looks like or who invented the toilet. I don't even have to close my eyes and I can feel them placing him on my chest in the hospital, the shakiness of blood loss and post-Cesarean pain numbed only by the love for this little boy who had created life for me in that moment.
And then there's been every day thereafter. I watch them play like a movie in my mind.
Lately Ethan's been discussing his fifth birthday party. Five feels like a milestone worthy of me crying over, knee deep in my known privilege and also at a loss over it all. I have spent every waking moment of Ethan's life with him. I've elongated the baby phase until five, until he lets me know that he's not a baby anymore and is ready for more than I would have hoped and, yet, his desires are all my very hopes themselves. This is him taking the lead. This is him calmly letting me know from the backseat that he wants to stay a kid for a long time but he wants to go to "a little bit" of preschool in the fall even if he's nervous and believes he might change his mind, and he also wants to go camping but maybe just in his teepee in his bedroom. This is him reassuring me that he needs me still, even if he is the one who always remembers where I lose my keys or leave my coffee cup.
Like most parents I do this thing where I whine in a half-joking manner about how I blinked and my baby emerged into a child. In truth, some nights I challenge myself to remember the little moments. The zoo trips. The museum trips. The park picnics. Every laugh and milestone filed into the past half a decade that we have spent glued to one another's side. "Are you nervous when Carmen does that?" He asks me this as she sneezes, or coughs, or gulps down her formula little too quickly. "No, buddy. I'm not. I learned it all with you." There is immense truth in that. It was he who made me a mother. It is he who unlocked the newness of every day, of every phase, of every worry and desperate wonder.
Today I did laundry and Ethan built Legos and I recalled the Halloween when he was two and won tickets to a Halloween party and how excited he was, his face lit up by the strobe lights on the walls. I smiled and my eyes teared and I knew then that I would never be able to explain to him the depths of my love, the strength of my gratitude for getting to spend every day of his entire life with him so far.
"I'll always be your baby," he's taken to saying whenever he sees that pensive look wash over my face, the realization that time is slowly creeping on. "I'll be your baby even when I'm 100 years old but now I have to just build some Legos."