The first time your son inhales a gulp of air, the first time he takes your breast and sucks hard, the first time he squeezes his tiny palm around some part of you and leaves depressions of his razor-nails inside your flesh, will also mean the last time your body holds him completely, in water and your flesh. The first time he rolls over, sits up, crawls, walks, begins moving on his own, will also mean the last time he is wholly dependent on your body for movement. The first time he says Mama, will also mean the last time you wait to hear his voice name you, the last time you are anything but his.
And as summer slips away, leaving behind its lingering heat and stick, it’s time for your son to start a new year of school, to go to a new, big-boy, 3-year-old classroom. The first day you watch him “graduate,” performing the alphabet and counting and signing along and hugging his classmates as they dance together to show you what they’ve learned, to show you how they are beginning to understand friendship. As he flails his feet in the air doing what can only resemble acrobatics his small body should be too afraid or weak to perform, this first performance among his peers will also mean the last one he does a fully self-absorbed toddler.
Then, that “first day of school” really reminds you how it is also the last of a kind of summer sweetness for which you have no words. That morning, he wakes up and yells at you to leave him alone and not to hug him and not to touch him and that he wants his Papa instead, that he doesn’t want you. And you know this is not the first time he’s done this, nor will it be the last. And he refuses to go to the bathroom, though he well knows how, and he hits you and tries to bite, and he refuses to put on cloths and when he does, he spills his milk all over everything, and all of this too is neither the first or last of such things.
And when you arrive at his school, ready to enter a new room with new teachers and no bathroom because they are old enough to hold their urges in for longer, your son has completely wet himself and the stroller and calmly attests to this while you put on dry clothes. This too, not first, likely not last, nor singular incident. This too, a moment you want to hold on to anyway, because what if it is the last time and you miss remembering it. The feel of his palms pressing into your shoulders as he uses you for balance to put on his shorts. Too soon he won’t need that stability anymore or he’ll find it on his own or use someone else’s body to help him.
He doesn’t cry when you leave him that first day. Doesn’t ask you to stay, but blows a kiss in return to the one you gesture at the door. And when you come to get him, he isn’t ready to go yet and says, “No, Mama, I need to work out with Ms. Elizabeth.” And he stays, to move his body the way someone else is instructing him to, and he asks you to watch, and so do all the other kids, “Watch me, watch me,” and they twirl huddled so close, they look more like the interlocked gears of an old clock. And of course, your gear is spinning far faster than the rest, and spins himself into a book shelf, and sobbing, grabs on to your neck and bleeds onto your shoulder and within seconds, is back in the center of the room, refusing to go home and dancing wildly.
So maybe other women don’t tell you that firsts also mean lasts because chronology blurs in motherhood. Because like clockwork, time can’t stand still, always moving forward and at once, arriving at the same hours the very next day as the one that came before. Because your son calls “yesterday” for anything that happened in the past no matter how long ago and he hasn’t found a word yet for today or tomorrow. Because temporality is as constant as it is fluid, as static as it is ever changing. Because every first is at once a last and not a first or last at all.