Her chubby fingers worked with a surprising amount of speed and dexterity as she ripped open the seal on the bag. Chocolate chips poured out of the brown and white plastic, like fat, heavy raindrops from low-lying clouds. She looked around, then up at me, with a mixed expression of guilt and wonder on her too-quickly changing face. With both hands open, she reached down and filled her pudgy little fists with the sweet chocolate drops, then crammed them into her mouth. Something a lot like bliss spread across her face, alighting her dimples, then her snapping brown eyes, completely ablaze.
I watched this, feeling the Mommy mix of love, amusement, and a slight exasperation at yet another mess I would have to clean up today. And then it came to me, by this time next year, she will be at a totally different stage. When I am making cookies, she will want to help. She will still make lots of messes, but she’ll be able to talk more, and to help clean those messes up. Well, maybe a tiny bit. But, all my kids will be completely done with diapers! I am actually close enough to see the light at the end of the Huggies Tunnel.
The excitement of those thoughts were quickly overshadowed by a pulling at the very base of my chest. My children are, respectively, 10, 7, 7, 3, and 21 months. By this time next year, they will be so different. The little faces that beam up at me when I walk in the door will be less little. The chubby fingers that grasp so eagerly around my own, will be longer and less babyish. Their tiny voices will be deeper and sound closer to their forever voice. The voice they will use to soothe their own children someday.
By this time next year, none of my babies will technically be babies. That sentence hurts my heart even as I write it. I know they will always be my babies, but still, they will be farther from fitting in the crook of my arms than ever before. Farther from my trying to teach them how to walk, and closer to walking out of what I have taught them. They will range in age from toddler to tween. One year is so much more than 365 days. It is a leap on a steep staircase, with only 18 stairs, and a very big landing. The handrail of my parenting only goes up so far. In moments like these, it doesn’t seem far enough.
As I changed the baby into another outfit, these thoughts were pushed to the side by the blinking of my phone. My children’s school, again. Yet another day of picking up one of my children early because they were not feeling well. Which is mostly their code for missing Mommy or feeling badly about how the day has gone and needing to return to the safety of home again. One of the three seems to go to the office for this reason at least every other week. They must put on a good show, because the secretary has not caught on and is very insistent about their ailments. The monsoon of chocolate chips would have to wait a few minutes.
Finally home, I was getting the kids settled into our routine of snack and homework, when my husband returned from his work. He took the chair next to me and listened to all the ins and outs of my day. I talked until his throat went dry. Which is when he went to the kitchen for water, or more likely, silence. What followed him to the sink was a scat-like trail that would have thrown Hansel and Gretel off course. He had been sitting in the chair. The entire time I talked, the chocolate chips were being melted by the warmth of his, um, heart.
As I howled with laughter, my three-year old explained to her daddy that the baby had made a mess. A mess that he had just cleaned up with an unusual sponge. We laughed and laughed as we cleaned up the now even bigger mess of our impromptu fondue. And I felt it again, the peace that comes from knowing you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
Next year will come soon enough, but it isn’t here yet. Today I have everything I need; my husband, my children, laughter, and even a little bit of chocolate.