Every milestone is greeted with awe by parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, and anyone else who cares about you. Folks stand aside and clap and cheer every time you do something new. If they blink, they miss it.
As you get older, the pace of your milestones stretches out. They don't come as often. Fewer people stand by and cheer.
Yet every time our children reach one of these one-way doors, I find myself looking back at the day they were born. I can still remember with razor-like detail what I saw, felt and heard as we welcomed each of our kids into the world. Each experience was incredibly different, yet they all ended up with us, at some point in the proceedings, holding a tiny little bundle of squirming newness. It's that tininess that stuck in my mind as I carried our seven-year-old daughter upstairs earlier tonight after she had fallen asleep on the couch, head tucked into my wife's lap.
She's always been petite, but in the past year, she's stretched out. She's not so much a little girl any more as she is a young lady. Her legs dangled as I hoisted her up to my shoulder and held her securely. Although she's as thin as can be, she was clearly not the tiny bundle that I first held in the hospital all those years ago. I had to focus as I labored up the stairs, trying hard to balance her and not wake her up in the process.
I carefully tucked her in and then sadly realized that in the not-too-distant future, I won't be able to carry her at all.
This is hardly new territory for us. Our eldest son is already past the point at which I can comfortably carry him. I can do piggyback rides, but that's about it. I miss our pre-bedtime cuddles. I used to scoop him up after we brushed his teeth. I'd then zoom him like an airplane into his big boy bed. Now, he does the brushing. He's too big to fit completely in our arms when we kiss him goodnight. It was a sad day when I realized I risked a hernia in picking him up, and it'll be a sad day, too, when I reach the same point with our daughter.
At 4, our little guy still has a few years of carrying left in him. But when I look at him bundled in his Arthur sheets and Buzz Lightyear comforter, I know every milestone we go through with him will be the last of its kind.
Kids inevitably grow, and we never lose sight of the amazing gift that we have been granted to simply be part of their journey. Yet a part of me always thinks back to the first time I held our six-pound bundles in my arms, and I somehow wish I had as much protective ability now as I did then.
Our daughter didn't wake up this time, and she's now warmly ensconced in her bed while a raging blizzard whistles just outside her window. I hope the carrying milestone can hold off for another little while.