Firsts vs. lasts: remembering the parenting moments we don’t celebrate

My son doesn’t take baths anymore.

Now, before you call the health department, rest assured, he does still bathe, but he’s switched to taking showers. All by himself. All of a sudden.

I can’t even remember exactly when it happened. I just know that there used to be three little wet, wiggly ones in the tub in need of a scrub, and now there are only two, with one increasingly independent boy down the hall, singing to himself under the spray. For so long they were all in there together and now they’re not, nor will they likely ever be again. It’s just soap and water, but with it comes a tidal wave of independence that’s sweeping through our house. And somewhere, lost in the shuffle, was one last bath.

Had we known it was going to be the last one, would we have done anything different? Added extra bubbles? Perhaps. Let them splash a little longer? Possibly. Saved a vial of tub water? Umm, have you seen our tub? I don’t think so. But the fact remains, we didn’t know.

Parenthood is marked by the celebration of so many “firsts.” Look no further than Facebook for proof of that. Status update: Baby’s first smile! Mobile upload: First taste of solid food! New album: First Day of School! But the “lasts” don’t often get mentioned, much less “liked,” because we rarely if ever know they’re happening until it’s too late.

I can describe in great detail for you the first time our littlest little one walked, but not the last time he crawled. I remember the first time our biggest little one sat at the kitchen table, but not the last time he was in a highchair. I know what my daughter wore on her first day of preschool, but not on her last day of whatever you call that time before a child goes to preschool. You’d better believe I remember the first time baby slept through the night, but not the last time I held that fuzzy head against my chest for a 2 am feeding. First teeth, yes. Last gummy grins, not so much.

Recently, I attended the wedding of a dear friend. As I watched the glowing bride dance with her father, I found myself overcome with emotion. She was so happy, he looked so serious. I was instantly taken back to a day almost a decade ago, when another ecstatic bride danced with her very serious father. Both were nervous- it was actually his first time on a dance floor, he had even taken lessons to prepare. But neither knew the twists that life and health would take, and that their first dance would likely also be their last.

I don’t think we’re supposed to know when “lasts” are happening. If we did, we’d never have the strength to move forward, which is the only direction worth going. But perhaps if we were a bit more aware that each “first” comes at the expense of another “last,” maybe we’d appreciate the “during” just a little bit more.

Parenting is hard work, and we’ve all had the feeling of wanting to hit fast forward and skip over a particular experience, or a tantrum, or a phase… or a year. “Just get me through the teething,” we say. Or “If I can just make it until they’re all in school all day.” We look to the “firsts,” the major milestones, we use them to pull ourselves up from the muck of daily life. But it’s those “lasts,” from the most routine ones that happen naked in a tub, to the ones that are covered in sequins and lace, that sneak up on us and knock us down.

There may not seem like that much difference between a shower and a bath, but for me there’s a big reminder to be more aware.

Because all of this eventually washes away.

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