I know, she’s not a baby anymore.
It is a new phase in parenting for me to not have a baby. With having 4 children in 5 1/2 years, I haven’t been out of the baby/toddler stage since becoming a mom 8 1/2 years ago. For me parenting has always included sleepless nights, diaper changes, potty training, breastfeeding, baby wearing, strollers, car seats to buckle, soft squeaky toys, cribs, new teeth, safety gates on stairs, outlet covers, afternoon naps, “Good Night Moon” and sweet baby babblings.
Of course, as the older kids have grown we have added other activities to parenting: Legos and Playmobil, soccer teams, pulling teeth, booster car seats, bike riding, bunk beds, “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and complete two-sided conversations.
But it feels a little strange to say goodbye to some of those baby things. No one needs me to buckle them in the car. I’ve passed my Ergo and Maya wrap on to others. I have no diapers to wash. No one sleeps in the crib. No one freaks me out on the stairs. No one routinely wakes me up at night. And although I might re-enter the baby stage again in the future, I have no way of knowing that I will for sure- whether I want to or not. So there is definitely a sense of moving on, passing into another stage, saying good-bye.
And I remember what it felt like when I was in the throes of all those baby things. I remember the exhaustion, often feeling overwhelmed, and not really grasping that it wouldn’t last forever. And then all of a sudden I looked up and the babies had turned into children- children who wake up and go downstairs on their own and fix themselves cereal- all without waking me up! And I think about how sweet it was to nurse a tiny baby first thing in the morning. And then I look at the cereal mess and the milk on the floor and wonder when they’ll ever be big enough to also leave it all clean after they’ve fed themselves.
My husband has often said that one of the biggest challenges of parenting is being able to enjoy the stage you are in. It seems like we’re so often either pining for the past or longing for the future.
“Wasn’t it so sweet when they were babies and they used to – (insert adorable baby behavior here)?”.
Or “Won’t it be great when they are older and we won’t have to – (insert any number of disgusting tasks associated with caring for those who have no control over any bodily functions here)?”
In fact, it starts with pregnancy (at least for moms). I think most pregnant women get to a point in the last trimester where they feel like they will be pregnant forever. Especially the last few days. Especially if you are overdue. Especially if you are 11 days overdue. It almost becomes hard to remember what it felt like to not have a gigantic weight in your abdomen, to be able to roll over at will in less than 2 minutes, to sleep on your stomach, to not need to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes. That last few days anxiety of “when will I go into labor?”, “why haven’t I had this baby yet?”, “what if I don’t go into labor?” for some reason isn’t easily dismissed by the fact that no pregnant woman has remained pregnant indefinitely. We know we’ve never met a woman who’s been with child for five years, but we still feel like there is no end in sight.
So we tend to always feel like the particular stage we are in is everlasting. And then it is over and we can’t imagine how it sped by so quickly. Too quickly. Even those whose children’s ages are more spread out, who have children in various stages simultaneously, have to say goodbye to those stages with each individual child.
But that’s what it really comes down to, doesn’t it?
Each individual child.
A person who is growing and moving through life.
I’m not called to love babies, or elementary age children, or teenagers. I’m called to love each of my children, through each stage of growth, as they pass from one phase to another. Regardless of the level of work required or the amount of warm fuzzies received.
Of course I love my 8 year old just as much now as when he was 6 months old. I can think of all the pros (he doesn’t spit up on me) and cons (he doesn’t get excited when I walk into the room) of this current age compared to the former. Or I can still long for what the benefits will be when he is even older (I will never mow grass again). But instead, I just want to enjoy where he is right now. I want to delight in my youngest being 3, because, although she was so precious at 2, she’ll still be that at 3. And not just because 3 year olds are also precious, but because she is, no matter her age.
I want to revel in this stage of watching my children grow from little kids to big kids. To see who they are and who they are becoming. To rejoice in the ways they are newly independent and to be aware of the new ways they now need me. And sometimes, for me, that may mean putting down the camera (not always, and believe me, for a photography fanatic, that was hard to say), and just living in the moment, without fear of not having captured it for eternity. For some memories are just best imprinted on the heart, and most clearly evidenced by the closeness of our current relationships.
If I have any advice for new parents, it would be this: Although it seems as if time is standing still, it is really whizzing by. You will make it through the tough days. You will sleep again. Drink in all the goodness of where you are- the here and now. One day you will look back on it and cherish all the sweet moments and see where you grew through all the hard ones. (Because I think parents grow just as much along with their kids.) Before you know it the baby will be gone. But that precious person who used to be in baby form will still be there, with a bigger body and an array of new skills and plenty of need for a parents love and nurturing.
So right now I have a wonderful 3 year old, a precious 4 year old, a fantastic 6 year old, and an amazing 8 year old. Next year, all those numbers will be different, but the accompanying adjectives will remain the same.
And hopefully, in 5 more years, I’ll remember all the good times of these ages, I’ll forget a lot of the difficulties, and I’ll be even closer to these four little humans and ready to help them and love them through the next phase of these wonderful things we call life, love and parenting.