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It’s the clothes that’ll get you. The onesies, striped summer dresses, sleep sacks, ‘Mummy loves me’ t-shirts, skinny jeans. Size N, zero to three, three to six.
Sure, there are the photographs, but they don’t have the same effect. Even the earliest ones, those trembling, sweaty delivery room aftermath snapshots and more relaxed recovery room swaddle pictures, where she’s so impossibly small and yet (this has to be a cliche, it has to) so incredibly huge.
You can look through all the photographs in chronological order, the staged ones that your wife takes every Wednesday weekiversary, the candid “look at what she’s doing now isn’t it cute quick where’s my camera” shots, the visiting relative beaming while holding squirmy blur pictures; they won’t get you in the same way.
The photos don’t get you because they’re not about things lost, or gone by. They’re brimming with potential, with the future, with possibilities.
But the clothes are a different story. The half dozen shirts and onesies from Baby Gap from that time when you were passing by and sure, let’s just go and see, we’ll have to start buying clothes at some point, we’ll just have a look, and everything was so cute that you came away having spent a small fortune and quickly learned why Walmart and Costco’s clothes came so highly recommended.
The loaners from your serially procreating friends who are currently between babies four and five. The unworn tiny outfits loaned to you by friends whose baby was born the size of a Galapogos tortoise. The fuzzy footed sleepers from shrieking coworkers at baby showers. The dinosaur t-shirt from Great Aunt Hilda that was accidentally put with the bigger clothes so it never got worn and you still feel incredibly guilty about.
It starts when the first ones start to tug; you see signs of tightness, and so they go into an unused shelf in a closet. Then the shelf gets too full so you take an empty box of six thousand Pampers and put them in that. When it’s full it goes under a bed and you start another box.
You’re saving it all for the next one, you say.
And then it gets you. You pull the boxes out because you have a bunch more clothes to add, and it gets you. It’s all there. The drive home. The first night. The frantic, desperate first trip to the lactation consultant. Waiting in the ER with the Olympic opening ceremony in the background. The first smiles, the first blowout, the first miraculous all-night sleep. The past, contained in tiny dresses and outfits, memories and ghosts.
So you rock her to sleep later that night, and the boxes are still on the floor, and as her face smooshes into your arm in the sudden darkness you hold her closer, as close as you can without waking her up. Because she’ll never be this small again.