How Will I Know When I’m Done?

 

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Please let me hold you like this forever.

As my oldest daughter grows out of her clothes, I fold them into labeled jumbo diaper boxes and stuff them into a storage area over our garage. They share the space with other infant products that seemed essential but whose use was short-lived: extra baby gates, a swing that all of my children hated, a bouncy seat and a Bumbo seat and a potty seat. When the next child is ready for a new clothing size I pull the boxes out, sort through them to find seasonally appropriate attire, and swap out the stuff in their drawers. It’s an incredibly annoying job, but someone has to do it, and it certainly isn’t going to be my husband.

A few days ago I was up there, looking for 12-month clothes and packing away the size 6-month things, when one little romper caused me to pause. It was one of the few items that I’d purchased just for Alex, my youngest, and it looked brand new: pink-and-white stripes, ruffled short-sleeves, an elephant on the front. I held it in my hand, some emotion rising in me.  The cotton was still soft, washed how many times? A dozen? And now she is done with it, moving on to her sisters’ well-worn items, each of which carry their own memories. The pair of jeans Maggie refused to put on, the sundress Ceci wore for her one-year photos.

They’re just clothes, I try to tell myself every time I go through this, but the truth is, they’re not. These boxes, scrawled in black Sharpie with 2T Summer or Bibs/Burp Cloths, are physical evidence that I can’t keep them little. They are reminders of all the things my children have outgrown, that they are even, in some ways, outgrowing me. Recently I met my five-year-old’s preschool class at the mall, where they had gone to meet Santa, then have lunch. “I don’t want you to come to Chick-Fil-A with me,” she said. “I want to sit with my friends.” Meanwhile Alex, at nearly nine months, is standing on her own, will soon be walking. And I think: Am I ready to leave babyhood behind for good?

Matt and I have never settled on exactly how many children we want, but three always seemed like a good number. He’s one of two; I’m one of three. More than that would be uncharted territory. It would mean a radical reevaluation of our lives: What would four mean? A bigger house? A bigger car? Less time for just the two of us? Let’s be honest: grandparents- even the really fantastic ones our kids have- don’t really want to watch four kids for more than a couple of hours. I’m not sure would want to watch four kids for more than a couple of hours. And yet…

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I mean come on, who doesn’t want 100 of these?

I do know that I’m not ready NOW. But a few years down the road, when things have settled a bit, when all of them can wipe their own butts and put on their own socks, maybe then? How will I know for certain that my family is complete, that it’s time to drop the proverbial curtain on all this baby making talk and take more permanent measures? Will I know when I hold that tiny pink romper in my hands and feel nothing more than a mild nostalgia? Perhaps I’ll know when Maggie starts school for real and I am bombarded with papers to sign and spelling words to call out and science projects to help with. Will I know in a year or so when it comes time to decide: keep the high chair or donate it? Will God speak to me in a dream? Send a sign? How will I know for sure? Will I know for sure?

It’s a question for another day, a distant day, for a woman whose children are a little older, who has a little more information about what the future holds. By then, I may have outgrown the idea altogether. Or not…

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