Lately I can feel that change is coming. Change is not unusual; it is inevitable and part of life, part of the seasons, part of everything. What is unusual is that I’m aware of it before it is happening. Usually, especially as it relates to small children, our lives seem to move into a phase and stay there for a good long while, sometimes interminably it seems. I get so used to these phases, and then am surprised one day to realize that something has shifted- the baby stopped waking up at night, the toddler stopped asking for a light on, the bottles of milk tapered off, multiple naps became two, then one, then none. The changes don’t happen overnight of course, and it’s often one step forward, one step back, so it takes awhile to acknowledge and settle into the new normal.
But somehow this time, I feel it coming. My little girl is reluctantly becoming a “big little girl” as she calls it, and my son is actively campaigning to be a big kid. It’s becoming hard to ignore.
One of my favorite moments of the day is waking up my baby girl. She rises early but doesn’t call out, singing and talking to herself and her stuffed animals. She likes her alone time in the crib. Sometimes I go in on my own, sometimes she calls out “Mama, I ready now!”. Either way, I open the door into a haven- her room is still and quiet, the sound of a quiet rain swishing around the room, the sweet smell of a sleeping baby fills my everything. She raises her arms and I pull her to me, where she curves into my body like a comma, like a question mark. She is the best hugger. She nestles her head into my neck, and sighs, holds on tight. She smells so good- an indefinable smell of her babyhood, like puppy breath that will be gone too soon.
Her legs are too long. They dangle, past my hip, almost to my knees. I cannot hold on with one hand anymore. I have to bend deeply before I pick her up. She squeezes her legs around me tighter, so as not to slip and let go. I lay her on the changing table and realize, she is too big to be on a changing table. I realize it’s time, time for potty training, for giving up the pacifier, for a big girl bed to take the place of her crib. I am not ready. I always hold on too long to these transitions. Not because I am afraid of doing them, but because I know these things mark the end of her babyhood. The end of my babyhood, for she is my last.
I say to her, You are such a big girl now. She says, I know, mama. No more paci, and I get to wear underwears! And pull ups! And no crib. I must look sad, becasue she reaches up and touches my cheek with her beloved lovey. But not yet, mama, not yet. I think she says not yet for me. I think she knows I need a few more moments of this.
At least I have a faded map of that transition, from baby to toddler to preschooler. We might take some detours, but I have been down the road before. With my son, we are navigating blind. He has been mine for so long it seems, in my care and physically and emotionally dependent on me, that it’s unclear where he ends and we begin. He has spent five years being next to me, on me, around me. Obviously we spend time apart, but when he’s not at school or at a friend’s, he is orbiting me. But lately, he is spinning off on his own. At five, he is desperate to be a “big kid”. He has started taking his own baths, getting dressed on his own, making his own breakfasts, taking off way ahead of me on his bike. His face is more angular now, he looks like the boy he will become. He sits with his legs crossed like his dad’s, he tries to roll his eyes, he asks to sit at his own table, he wants to do it all by himself. He is reading, he uses words like “awkward”, we have complicated conversations. He is getting farther away from me. He always comes back, of course, but it’s the first leap in the beginning of a long but certain separation.
The change I sense is a change from being a family of littles to a family of little kids. We have been cocooned at home for so long, it’s hard to remember what we did before kids with all our free time, and even harder to imagine what comes next. O just started TBall. Two practices a week, and a game. Too much, I think, but that is what it is. Now we are splitting up as a family. Now we are having different dinners and bedtimes as evening activities present themselves for the first time. My neighbors mostly have elementary school age kids and there have been many times when I envied their relative freedom compared to mine. I am standing on the porch, tethered to the sleeping baby during naptime, while they are free to move about, to go to movies with their kids, and do bike rides. Unless we have a sitter, we leave the neighborhood get togethers first, as we still have kids that need a bedtime, while they continue the party. They take their kids to plays, on interesting vacations, send them to camp. My response is always, not yet, they are too little. Except now, O is not too little.
Now that this is our next step, I am surprised to find myself resisting. I don’t want things to change. The interminable attachment to and from my kids is suddenly not so interminable. There is an expiration date. I realize, too late of course, how much I treasure and adore this cocoon of family life we have. Dinner and bath and bedtime every night, the same. Being at home all together. Being needed. Being required to give an additional eight hugs, or nine kisses, or another glass of water, or another story every night. What I thought was frustrating and never-ending is, in fact, glorious and fleeting.
For now, I’m holding on to “not yet”.
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