About a month ago I washed a load of diapers. After drying, the diapers stayed in the laundry room for a week or so. Then I hauled them up to Eleanor's room. They sat in her drawers for another week or so longer. When I finally got tired of them taking up a drawer, I put them away. In storage.
Back in January I pulled out the toddler bed from storage. With Eleanor and Joseph watching intently, I awkwardly (and grumpily. I hate those slats every time) put the little white bed together. Eleanor, in transports of delight, cooed over her bed, climbing off and on and off and on. With other things to do, I left her crib up.
Then a week later, I put it away. In storage.
For the last nine and a half years of my life, I've never been without a crib somewhere in my house. One baby finishes with the crib because the next one is kicking them out. I've always had a full bin of diapers. Packages of wipes are scattered through the house, waiting for the next impromptu diaper change. Now those wipes are all going dry.
All of my children are walking. All of my children are talking. All of my children can (can, not do) feed themselves. All of them can use a toilet in public. And I'm still wearing normal clothes with no date in sight for anything different.
This was not my plan.
I've never wanted a break in the babyness, never wanted to take the crib down or put the diapers in storage until I was ready to give the crib away and hand the diapers over to somebody who needed them. My motto has always been 'the only way out is through.' Just keep having them until you're done. And then be done.
My mother, at my age, found herself with an unused crib and extra diapers and that crib waited for four years until my brother was there to fill it. Our gaily decorated nursery, with cloud wallpaper trim cheerfully marching around the room, waited empty, with no purpose but to wait through the pause.
I always vowed that I would not have the four year gap as I pitied my brother, lagging so far behind everyone else. He spent all his high school years alone, going on vacation alone with my parents, going out to dinner alone with my parents, and fought the parent-teenager battles alone. I would not do that to one of my children.
And now here I am, at my mother's age with my own crib waiting and my own plans spoiled and a new level of empathy for my mother. We make plans and then life makes other ones. We all know which plans always win in the end.
Sometimes as I look at our five little ducklings playing together I wonder if these are all I get. And if these are all I get, am I okay with that? I am okay because I know that if God is okay, then I'll either get okay or spend the rest of my life angry and bitter. But that doesn't have to mean that I can't be a little sad. I wonder that if this is just a pause like my mother's, how long will the pause be. Will I have my own caboose to apologize to as they watch everyone pack up and leave them to be alone with the insufferable parents? If it is a pause, how long do I wait until I decide that the pause is a period? Do I try something heroic or just say that five children is enough heroics without getting complicated and expensive medicine involved? Will I feel like that is giving up?
I had always had a secret plan about how many children I could squeeze in before I hit 35 and I could claim old age as a good excuse to stop. My secret plan sometimes felt a little selfish - why let age and a number mathematically determined when I was in my twenties stop me from having even more children to welcome in to our noisy happy family and make it even noisier and happier? Now I have the opposite problem - not enough instead of too many.
I've always known that I would get older and things wouldn't work as well as they used to. Mostly so far, this has been theoretical. I've enjoyed great healthy pregnancies that never took more than a month or two to show up. No morning sickness, no gestational diabetes, no preeclampsia. I probably took all of those things for granted, although I tried not to.
But now aging is rearing its ugly head and I get to feel the very beginning of what life will bring me with increasing regularity - wanting something that my body can't give me. In the end I will die and resurrection day will come and that will never happen again. But for now, I'll just have to wait.