This fall, I hit an uncomfortable, inevitable milestone: for the first time in our marriage (barring the gap of our own making), our baby is two and a half years old, and there’s no little brother or sister already in my arms or waiting to make an appearance.
Some days, this strikes me as an unexpected gift. No, I’m not saying that I don’t sometimes grow wistful for the weight of a baby on my chest as I go throughout our school day. But as someone who has always faced the rockier moments of toddlerhood in various shades of sleep deprivation— be it from the sheer ungainliness of the final act of pregnancy or from the thrilling, exhausting season of nurturing a newborn— I’m finding that Jude at 2 is a handful, to be sure… but not nearly so much a handful as I remember from my previous tours of duty mothering toddlers. It turns out, parenting a rambunctious little man intent on his own will is just that much easier with free hands and no napping baby you’re trying not to wake.
But most days, I’ll be honest: there is a wistful scent of the bittersweet that hangs just out of reach as I witness my baby pressing, full steam ahead, towards 3. Jude is independent, capable, and happiest when he’s outside, barefoot, running with his siblings, and being a full partner in their games. That is both beautiful and heartbreaking. In just a few days, you see, I’ll be 43. And while plenty of women have babies in their forties, the vast majority of us do not. So there’s a very, very good chance that Jude is our last little one.
After all, someone has to be the baby.
In every family, there’s a baby. There’s that final exclamation point to the clutch of children claimed by the mother and father, the last soul directly under the wing of the parents for that short season of nurturing. Of course, from there the dividends come in waves. Sons- and daughters-in-law, grandchildren. The line never stops, really. But our hearts, as mothers, often linger on the moment rather than the gain to be given: My last baby. My last little one.
I have been given more children than most. I have had the joy of giving birth, and the honor of adopting. I have been blessed by the privilege and the burden of each person represented in the photos on my walls. And still, I know there is room in my heart for more.
But someone has to be last.
Someone has to be the youngest. Someone has to be the brunt of the “baby of the family” jokes. Someone has to make the mother sigh each time he or she makes another stride towards adulthood. Someone has to be the caboose that signals an end to the train.
Chances are excellent that our family will return to fostering when we once again fit the parameters laid out by the state. (Family size is a sticking point.) My husband is even more passionate about our role in providing a home for children in need of a safe place than I am, so I don’t think we’ll ever close these doors completely— although I suspect that as we age, we’ll be less likely to accept younger placements, and focus more on older children.
So really, who knows what God has in store for us five, ten, fifteen years down the line? I definitely can’t say for sure. But for now, I’m working towards contentment with the idea that someone has to be the baby… and it might as well be Jude.