I’m sitting cross-legged on the grass in the middle of our half-acre backyard. There isn’t a foot of shade to be found, so I’m letting the sun beat down on me as I shield my eyes to watch my two kids run around our play set.
Suddenly my two-year-old is barreling toward me, then she’s collapsing into the tiny spot between my crossed ankles. She’s all sweat and dirt and giggles.
I forget that we’re both sticky and gross in this summer heat and just wrap my arms around her little toddler body. My hands find a resting spot on her fleshy thighs, and I give them a loving squeeze. I inhale deeply and try to memorize the moment, but in an instant she’s up again and running across the yard and back to the play set. All I’m left with is the echo of her happy squeals, but I remain hyper-aware of the way her legs felt pressed up against my thumbs and forefingers.
The two thoughts come to me in such quick succession that they’re almost simultaneous.
First: I love summer clothing—the shorts, the skirts, the dresses—because it means more opportunities to see and feel my toddler’s adorable chubby legs.
Then: This is the last summer she will have those chubby legs.
I could be wrong, of course, but I know it was between ages 2 and 3 that my son lost his baby/toddler chubbiness. From one July to another he went from squishy, waddling toddler to lean, sprinting little boy—and I expect my daughter will do the same.
The thought causes my breath to catch in my throat, probably because she is our last child. With your last child these thoughts come quite regularly, particularly if that decision was a difficult, drawn-out one rather than easy and instant.
This is the last summer for chubby toddler thighs poking out of little shorts.
Once I hop on that roller coaster, there’s no getting off.
This is the last summer I’ll chop her fruit into tiny bites.
This is the last summer she’ll need my help scaling the climbing wall on the playground.
This is the last summer we won’t be “preparing” for preschool.
I know this kind of thinking is supposed to be inspirational; it’s supposed to make me savor every moment and enjoy my children while they’re little and carpe diem. And sometimes it does.
But sometimes it makes me feel nauseated and panicky, like when you hit send and immediately realize you emailed your boss instead of your best friend. For a second the world stops spinning as you DEMAND that the clock turn itself back.
That’s how I felt as I squeezed my two-year-old’s roll-y legs. I yelled at time in my head to just STOP. Then I wondered if it would be weird to find a way to get my daughter to stay perfectly still (plop her in front of the TV, perhaps?) so I could just admire her legs to my heart’s content—mastering every crease and memorizing every roll. (The verdict? Yes, that would be quite weird.)
But if I did nothing and just let our lives carry on at a million miles an hour, the guilt and the regret would be more than I can bear, I just know it. I’d become frozen with remorse over not relishing my children’s littleness when I had the chance.
So I push the nausea and panic aside, and I write it down.
Some people would take a photo of those chubby legs, others might make a video of them as she toddled, but I am a writer and therefore my preferred method of recording life is still words.
I pull out a journal, scribble the date, and quickly describe this ordinary moment: Today I worshipped my toddler’s chubby thighs, and my heart ached over how quickly I know they will vanish. And that is it.
I toss my pen aside and she is next to me again, begging for her cup of water. I bend down to hand it to her, and as she takes it and turns away, my eyes barely notice her chubby legs. All I can see is the way damp strands of her sweat-streaked hair are plastered to the back of her neck.
Next summer, I think, her hair will have grown long enough for a pony tail. Next summer her hair won’t stick to her neck like that…
And I’m off again.