Mothers, grandmothers, and countless female strangers have stopped me over the past two and a half years to tell me the same thing: cherish every moment. It goes too fast. One day they are little and the next, they're not. They say it while staring fondly, wistfully, at the twins. Watching the face of each woman, I can tell that some part of her is replaying a highlight reel from when her own children were small enough to fit into a stroller, when her babies' little fists closed around mommy's single finger, when her toddlers begged to be picked up.
When the girls were really little, I smiled politely but wondered privately about the rose-tint of these women's memories. Back then, I was in the thick of it: waking up every few hours at night, sleeping for (maybe) 45 minutes at a time, giving over my body to two hungry nursing babies, hardly showering, struggling with even the concept of packing a diaper bag and putting two unimaginably small wriggly fussy people into their car seats for a get-out-of-the-house trip to Target, where I wrestled with the double stroller and tried to figure out how to buy things while pushing it and wasn't even sure how long we could stay before a hungry or wet or tired cry ended the adventure. In those days, I wished the time away. I envied moms with older kids, hoping for this baby stage to hurry on up. I wanted the girls to sit up so that we could use the cart with two seats and a whole basket gloriously free for grocery storage. I wanted them to tell me what was wrong and not have to play a frantic guessing game when their cries began. I wanted to be able to stay out of the house for more than a half hour when it took me just that long to pack us all up and get everyone into the car. So when anyone told me to cherish this time where I felt like I was just surviving, I didn't get it. How could I ever miss this stage? The sleepless nights, the fear-filled trips out of the house, the hours spent with a baby or two on my chest and no time for myself?
And then something weird happened. Gradually, the every-three-hours feeding frenzies stretched to five-hour gaps. The twins started to fall asleep without being cuddled. They learned how to sit up without support. I learned to pack our bags and the car while the girls napped and to leave the moment they awoke. I returned to regular showering, became skilled at on-the-go feeding, started feeling like life post-twins might be manageable. The days were long, but turned into months, which quickly passed. They weaned from breastfeeding and started on sippy cups. Charlotte learned to crawl, then cruise, then walk, one halting step after another turning into sure-footed runs in what seemed like a week; Emma followed suit soon after. They began squirming in my arms whenever I liberated them from their car seats, yearning to put their feet on the ground and show the world how they, too, could put one foot in front of another. They started to talk. They began climbing at the playground rather than just sitting in the sandbox. Haltingly, they tried out the slides, first the baby ones and then the toddler ones and then they were eighteen months old and waiting for the four-year-olds to finish so it could be their turn on the big-kid twisty-ones. They ate PB & J for lunch and held their own cups.
Somehow, that was a year ago. A year ago.
Today, they sleep twelve hours each night. They have friends who they ask for and teachers they love at their twice-per-week preschool. They have music and gym class and play dates and interests. Whenever I say "let's go to Target!," the twins bring me their coats and shoes. They scramble into their car seats, remind me to buckle them in, ask for books for the trip. We walk together into the store and they climb into the cart on their own. They try to get me to buy them candy, toys, stuffed animals. They talk to the cashier and politely ask for stickers. Sometimes, they have tantrums and we have to stop and talk about time-out and why we need to act differently and how to say "I'm sorry." After the car ride home, they help me carry in the (lightest) bags.They head upstairs for nap and they sleep without much of a struggle.
I check on them using the monitor and when I see them -- my little kids, curled up on their sides, hugging their lovies -- I get it. Somewhere along the line, my babies who needed me for everything, from sleeping to eating to diaper changes to constant cuddles, they grew into these little people who talk to me and each other and friends and strangers, who ask for things and love school and play make-believe and try to be independent.
They no longer cry for me in the middle of the night, no longer rely on me for every bit of their nourishment, no longer scream out desperately for God knows what, and never, ever snuggle up against my chest all day, preventing me from getting anything done around the house. They no longer need me so much that I can't sneak away for a shower. All those things that weighed me down, that made me wonder how women could ever say that they missed the baby years-- they're just gone. I wished for the time to pass and it did. And it's gone forever. My babies will never be babies again.
They are older today than yesterday and time is not slowing down.
And I am so desperate to hold on. To prolong this time where they are little for just a while longer. I cuddle with them every moment they'll let me, cherish the hugs, relish the toddler kisses. Whenever they ask, I pick them up, hold them tight, try to memorize the way they talk and smell. And when people see me carrying two 32 pound toddlers, when they say, "You must be so strong," I smile, but the truth is, now I know. One day these sweet little girls won't ever ask me to pick them up again, and that time will be sooner than I think. They're heavy, but I'll bear the weight as long as I'm able. As long as I can feel their little arms around my neck. As long as they need me.