“Hazel, are you mommy’s baby?” I playfully ask my three-year-old this question as we cuddle on the couch watching Daniel Tiger. She quickly responds with, “No, I’m your big girl, baby.” I’ve asked her this question before, and I always know the answer that my independent thirdborn will give me. Of course, she will always be my baby, but I don’t have a baby anymore.
It happens quickly. One minute, I was drowning in diapers, formula, and highchair messes, and the next minute, I found myself sitting at a holiday party, wondering when my kids last checked in on me. I’m no longer the mom chasing the toddler away from the fireplace and Christmas presents. I can sit down with other adults and — for the most part — have a full conversation.
It didn’t happen slowly, as I’d imagined. The baby/toddler years feel so long when you’re in them. When you’re suddenly out of them, it’s a bit of a shock. In just a couple of years, I went from buckling three kids into five-point harnesses to only having to buckle one child. I can’t remember the last time I bought diapers, zipped a sleep sack, or got up in the middle of the night to replace a pacifier.
It goes fast.
I wonder if other moms mourn the baby years like I am. Do you walk down the baby aisle at Target for the memories? Or do you rejoice in the fact that all of your kids can go to the bathroom unassisted? Do you miss baby-wearing a warm, snuggly baby close to your chest? Or are you thankful your back no longer feels like it’s breaking?
Maybe we can feel sad and happy at the same time.
I go back and forth between mourning and being thankful my kids are becoming their own smart, independent little people. Perhaps a more experienced mom will tell me it won’t always feel this way? Eventually, we will settle into the big kid stage, just in time for them to turn into teenagers, I’m sure. Isn’t that how life goes? As soon as we get comfortable, something changes.
My kids still need me in many ways. They need me more emotionally than they’ve ever needed me before, and sometimes, it’s much more exhausting than the physical exhaustion of having babies.
But when I take my kids to the playground, there’s a jarring realization that I can no longer stand with the group of moms who are very obviously there on playdate with their firstborn babies who can barely walk. They look tired, but they still have that glimmer in their eyes, eager and excited to meet new people. Their kids don’t care who they’re playing with because none of them can talk. It’s a playdate for the moms, really. I know this because, at one time, I was in that season, too. Instead of joining them, I’ll sit on a bench from the corner of the playground and watch my kids entertain themselves. It’s strange and a little lonely. I want to tell those moms that I was one of them once, too.