Everyone with a kid always talks about milestones. But what about the milestones you miss?
About a week or so ago, I went out to my husband’s friends’ house for a Sunday night dinner—a very rare event, since usually Sunday nights are spent in the thick of the family chaos. It was a lovely evening with great food, adults, and no diaper changes. As we drove back to our house, I called my parents to ask how the kids had behaved.
“Everyone was fine,” my mother told me. “Oh, and the baby walked.”
“Yes, she took five steps! She was very proud of herself.”
What. The. *#$*?????
I will not lie to you: I was an irrational, furious combination of sad and pissed off. Couldn’t the kid have waited until I got home so I could see it? Didn’t I deserve a front-row seat at a milestone like that, as a sort of merit badge for having pushed her out of my hoo-ha? DID NO ONE THINK TO PICK UP A PHONE AND RECORD IT? (The walking part. Not the hoo-ha part.)
You would think that by my sixth kid, I’d be jaded about stuff like this. And while I am totally over the “five second rule” (it’s a “however long until I find it’” rule in my house…hey, we’re nurturing immunities!!) and Purell in my handbag (see previous parenthetical), it would seem I am not yet over the equally crazy idea of “Mom Needs To Be Physically Present At Every Meaningful Milestone.”
Let me be clear: There is no way a mother, or any parent, can be physically present at every meaningful milestone. It is impossible. Whether you have a job, or other children, or maybe even just a life, you are going to miss something your kid does, whether it’s a first word or a first step. But even though I knew all that intellectually, I still felt like she had taken her little fist and socked me in my emotional solar plexus. I. Missed. It. OY.
So yes, she walked. She took her first steps. And she took them without me. And there are going to be thousands more steps she will take without me over the course of her life. AND THAT IS OK.
On the long car ride home, during which I went through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief at missing this moment (to my husband’s amusement/disgust), I finally figured out that the real milestone here was for me as a parent: I needed to take the step to finally realize my limits. I cannot be everywhere. Neither can my iPhone. The milestone for me—one I apparently am still working on and have yet to reach—is learning to let go of the idea of “supposed to” and “should have” and instead, taking and savoring life as it comes, no matter what form it takes and when. That feeling is so freeing, and helps you enjoy the rest without being weighed down by a heavy backpack of guilt and regret.
She learned how to walk alone. Maybe I need to figure out how to do that, too.