Babies Don't Keep


Growing up, my mother had a framed needlepoint with a poem on it. I remembered the poem, but until I searched for it for this post, the design was foggy in my memory. I faintly remembered a rocking chair, and a mother and baby... I do remember wondering whether my mother was terribly fond of it, because it hung in the laundry room over one of the chest freezers.

As I took my turn folding the perpetual mounds of laundry, I often chanted the poem to keep my mind occupied - not really giving it much thought while firmly cementing it in my memory. As I've matured, the poem has taken on great meaning for me.

It went like this:

Cleaning and scrubbing
Can wait til tomorrow...
For babies grow up,
We've learned to our sorrow.

So quiet down, cobwebs,
And dust, go to sleep...
I'm rocking my baby,
And babies don't keep.


As a child, rapping a poem while folding socks, I didn't think much about the words. My concept of time was limited by the amount of time I had lived; I didn't really think much at all about babies growing up - as the eldest of six it seemed there were always babies of some sort or another for me to hold or change or play with.

Time changes our thinking, doesn't it?

Now, I sit in a quiet house, my own four children tucked into bed. I expect I'll go to sleep and wake in the morning without having to attend to any of them in the night - I haven't had to for a while. There are no diapers to change, no bottles to warm or baby food to mix. No nursing pads and cracked nipples, or always looking at the clock to see what I could accomplish before the next feeding. I'm no longer wondering how my house will ever be clean again.

The days are still full, but the fullness has changed. There's no feeling of sheer desperation when I look at the daily chores to be done, because so many of them are delegated to capable young hands. The house isn't always clean by any means, but we can all work together and get it done in no time.

As I type this, my eyes fill with tears.  I long for the days of babies, and wonder how it has happened that my "baby" is 6.  There are many beautiful little nieces and nephews to love and hold, but the cuddles with my own grow fewer and further between.

We weren't planning to only have four children. I always wanted 7. Jim said, "the more the merrier". But after our youngest was born in 2010, my body 'closed up shop' of its own volition. Thanks to the worsening of some health issues, it looks like four kids is my sum total.

Now, I realize that the poem probably meant a great deal to my mother, and that it wasn't in the laundry room by mistake. The reminder was there for her as she washed, dried and folded clothes for her family of 8; as she ground the wheat for flour on bread-making day; as she rummaged in the freezer for something to make for supper; as she took a moment in the quiet coolness of the utility room to just breathe before jumping back into the fray.  She was always reminded to take the time to sit and pour out love on her babies, and to revel in the fleeting soft sweetness of a newborn.

My thought to you, overwhelmed mama who feels the need to do everything right now? You can't turn back time, and the cleaning will always be there. Despite your best plans, you might find that this moment is your only experience of motherhood. Maybe not, but you don't know.

Don't waste these precious moments... babies don't keep.


Photo of Helen, October 2007, by N.A.D.

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