By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Today I slipped on a jacket I hadn’t worn in a long time. I walked outside and shivered when I felt how cold the wind was, so I stuck my hands into the pockets. There was something there. I pulled it out and smiled when I saw it – a pink pacifier that used to go everywhere our youngest child went a few years ago. We never left home without it. But now she’s nearly 4-years-old and has traded in her pacifier for Barbie’s and hair accessories.
As I held the pacifier in my hand, I wondered what I should do with it. Throw it out? Or stash it in a drawer just in case we need it again. But needing it again would mean there might be another baby in the house someday, which leads me back to a question that has been circling my mind like a diverted plane waiting for a landing strip: “Are we done yet?”
Most days, I’m pretty sure about the answer. Yes, we’re done. Three kids equal a house full of joy and chaos and laughter and endless things to do. My head knows that we’re happy to have finished the baby phase and looking forward to the adventures we’ll have as the kids get older.
But my heart? Well, the heart can’t make up its mind. Every now and then I see a woman at the grocery store who’s just weeks away from giving birth, and I remember how incredible it was to feel a baby move inside my belly. I remember the anticipation of holding him or her for the first time. I loved the miracle of it all. My head tries to remind my heart that nausea and fatigue and labor pains also came with that package, but the heart is an eternal optimist.
Sometimes I see someone holding a baby who is three or four months old – that wonderful age when babies are snuggly and smiley and thrilled to ride around on your hip just to see the world. And one look at those sweet baby cheeks and pudgy little hands makes my heart starts whispering things like “well, maybe…”
Perhaps my ambivalence about it puts me in the minority. Most couples I’ve talked to know for certain when they’re done. In fact, they’ll often say it like this: “Oh, we are SO done! Definitely done.” But Tom and I have never felt that certain and have therefore sat squarely on the reproductive fence.
I talked to my doctor about all this at my annual check-up last week. I told him that even though I’m 99.9 percent sure we’re done having kids, it makes me sad sometimes to think I’ll never again have a newborn fall asleep on my shoulder. His response surprised me.
“Do you have a dog?” he asked.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m talking about a little dog you can cuddle with,” he said. “My wife got a dog and now she takes it for walks and buys it little sweaters. You need a place for all that mothering energy to go.”
“It’s funny you should say that because I do have a few friends who recently got house dogs, and they baby those dogs like crazy,” I said, remembering how much I loved it when my friend’s new dog curled up in my lap.
“Yep,” he said, confirming his diagnosis. “You need a dog.”
I thought about the concept of a “transitional dog” on the way home and how it might help bridge the gap between the baby phase and what lies beyond it. I floated the theory past Tom, who quickly reminded me about the transitional stray cat I’d already brought home a few months ago. And while our cat Percy is entertaining, in my heart I also know she’d trade my love for a can of tuna any day of the week. Cats are practical that way.
So what’s an ambivalent mother to do? Just keep circling the airport until we figure out where to land? My instinct tells me that “I’ll know when I know” and not to worry too much about it in the meantime. I’ll just leave the pink pacifier in my jacket pocket and decide what to do with it later. Until then, maybe I’ll buy Percy a little cat sweater and be glad that I won’t need to put her through college.