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A co-worker showed up with his wife and eight-week-old baby at the office today. The cube-dwelling crowd immediately gathered around to ooh and aah, and it took me several minutes to realize that I was the only one there with kids whose kids weren't babies. Everyone else was in the category of Pre-Kid Pregnant, Pre-Kid Single and Uninterested, or Post-Kid For Less Than Six Months. My co-worker's wife was doing a lot of smiling and nervous juggling of the squirmy, squeaky, sleeping mass of baby from one arm / stomach section / hip / shoulder to the other, making a lot of the statements you make as a brand new parent, statements that really have no substance but comfortably fill the time when everyone is standing around awkwardly staring while you uncomfortably bounce your kid from one side of your body to the other and wish the spotlight would stop making you sweat already, the post-natal hormones provide enough heat, really, we don't need that spotlight, GET IT OFF! STOP STARING AT ME! "He's such a serious baby. Oof. There you go, are you going to open your eyes now? Yyeeesss. Oh, don't get upset now. No. We're here to see everyone at daddy's office. Yeah. Mmm-hmm. See?"

I started to tell a story about Bryce's babyhood, "My first kid was really serious as a baby too! Even when he was older and started smiling, he would only smile at select people; you had to be in his CIRCLE. His chosen circle. He was very particular. Hahaha." It felt strange, though. They all looked at me, expecting more. Surely I would have some sweeping comment to make - about personalities, childhood, humanity. After all, I no longer had babies. I was the mom of kids now. I had nothing to add to the baby conversation; I should leave that to the ones most qualified, the ones who knew the most recently updated AAP recommendations regarding infant sleeping and eating, the ones with the still pristine strollers and the vehicles sans goldfish cemeteries littering every visible floor board.

When I made my comment about Bryce while I watched that soft, squirmy infant rooting around while he wondered with irritation where the warm sling was and why it had been so rudely and abruptly removed, I got a flash of my kids -- but not as babies -- as they are now. Surprisingly, that flash didn't feel achy or regretful; I didn't find myself longing for the baby days and wringing my hands about how unfair it all is and how tragically fast it went by. It did, of course, go by at the tragic speed of lightning - but it didn't feel painful or sad to acknowledge that in full. Rather, I told my story and realized these people really didn't want to hear about my kids' histories - they were here to experience the newness and squirminess of the gorgeous newborn present, not the blurrily similar past of someone unknown, someone now in a classroom, learning to read and write and play the piano and paint a picture. I walked away from the group picturing my kids with their long, lanky legs, their full heads of kid hair, their scuffed tennis shoes; hearing their articulate voices expressing sentiments and original thoughts like Quinn's mischievous and yet still creative twist on a school letter game, "puh-puh-puh-puh Poopy. The letter is P!" or Bryce's latest exclamation whenever anything is unexpected or slightly frustrating (his own self-created masterpiece, one that rings in my ears all day long now), "Great craps!"; feeling their purposeful, chosen embraces, their warm, soft, small arms grabbing me as I get up to leave them in their beds at night - their act of simultaneous objection ("you can't go!") and desire ("I want you with me!"), acts they think through, acts they've learned, acts we've danced around now between three and a half and five years. We've put our time in. We've gained a lot of ground. We're not squirming or nervously juggling or avoiding spotlights anymore; we've entered a new realm, together.

My babies are gone. But my kids -- yes, the same ones who drive me insane and make me question my value as a parent and human being with their shenanigans -- are here with bold, independent ferocity, mirthful sincerity, and a brilliance that brings me to my knees. Enjoy this time, new parents; it is miraculous. But when it goes, wave goodbye and smile at what greets you, at what is left in the wake of what you think you want to hold forever.

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