They were just babies — 4-pounders — five years ago. Now they're kids, full-fledged. Their legs are long. Their feet smell at the end of the day. One of them can even pick a crab, rather skillfully, with minimal help from me.
How did this happen?
I used to hear parents, mothers mostly, say that about their children, and I thought it was just something people said without really meaning it.
But now I know that the growth of babies into children is actually mystifying. It happens slowly and quickly at once, like the spinning of the Earth.
My grandmother was 86 when she died, and to me, she was still a great beauty. But she avoided mirrors as a matter of course, because the image she saw reflected in them stunned and confused her. Who is that old woman staring back at me, she would ask herself. How did this happen?
I know how she feels: Stunned. Confused.
Who are those boys who say "Mom" instead of "Mama," who get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom on their own and plod back to bed, in the dark, without once calling for me?
Five years went by so unfathomably fast, and parents of grown-up children tell us constantly how fast the next five will go and the five after that. I want to slow down time and simultaneously flip ahead a few chapters to see how these boys turn out in the end.
But if there's one thing I'm learning on the job, it's that I have to live in this moment. I can't slow it down. I can't fast-forward.
I wish I had known that when my twins were infants, crying and needy and inexplicable.
I wish I had known it when they asked for one more book or a few more tickles as the clock ticked too many minutes past bedtime.
I am learning, but I am a slow study.
Tonight, while he bathed the boys and their sister, my husband told them the story of their birth. That led to scrolling through photo after photo of me, big-bellied, and them, all skin and bones, in their first days.
I confess here that I do not recall so much of those earliest days, at least about the things that really matter. I remember feeling frightened and anxious — two babies in the NICU — and a fierce, almost primal sense of protectiveness. But I don't remember what their little cries sounded like. Without those photos to remind me, I would not be able to conjure up the twig-like tininess of their preemie ankles.
Where did those ankles go?
If I had a dollar for every time someone said to us, "Enjoy these years," and another dollar for every time I rolled my eyes (on the inside), I'd be a rich woman. Strangers said it when the boys were babies. Strangers say it now, when the two of them are dashing in opposite directions through Target and my daughter is whining and clingy, and my feet hurt, and I'm tired, oh so very tired.
There are times when those remarks feel hollow or even condescending. After all, having small children is hard. (Those who say it isn't have selective memory, or maybe household staff.) Don't try to wave away my frustration with your "the days are long but the years are short" nostalgia. Validate me! Or better yet — help!
But I know now they do mean to help. And they are telling the truth.
I missed so much in the haze of new motherhood, and five years in, I still miss more than I should. I don't always enjoy these days, not all the time. I don't live in this moment and no other, storing away the real feeling of a boy's hand in mine — or the scent of his brother's sweat on a lovey after an unwanted, but much-needed, Saturday afternoon nap.
They are 5 now, big boys, but still little.
Soon, too soon, they'll no longer nap. Their loveys will be long gone. I will want to hold their hands in a parking lot, but I will know better than to reach for them.
The Earth will spin beneath me, so quickly as to seem slow. And I will think, "My God. How did this happen?"
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 5-year-old sons, a 3-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatch ergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.