Eager to move on to bedtime after a long day, I get up from the table to clear dishes. My husband grabs a washcloth to attempt to wipe up the baby’s face, a futile task as the spaghetti appears to have landed everywhere but his mouth. He squirms away from his dad and reaches his arms towards me, protesting “Mama!”
“Oh you think I’m going to save you, do you?” I joke, but really, the joke is on me. He is my baby. He knows I will always save him. But as I reach my arms to retrieve him, my husband holds him back.
“Now, wait. You want your Mama, you’re gonna have to work for it,” my husband says. He then squats in our dining room across from me, the baby firmly gripping his dad’s large hands and standing between his legs.
I raise my eyebrow, skeptical. Our youngest is almost sixteen months old. By many accounts he should be considered a toddler at this point. But he is not yet taking steps. The walking milestone is always the breaking point for me, the passage from babyhood into toddler land. When he starts walking, I no longer have a baby in this house. I’m not sure I’m ready for this.
It wasn’t always like this. I never struggled with my children growing up and hitting milestones. I looked at each new step with wonder and pride, before quickly anticipating the next milestone. Hurray now on to the next! They were growing and it was an honor to come along for the ride.
But since welcoming our third baby–our last baby–I feel differently. I’m trying to savor more small moments with him. Yet each new milestone feels like it is pulling me further and further away from this baby, and all my babies. I already ache for the ages I will never experience again.
The big kids come running back in from the other room, standing next to me and beckoning for their baby brother. Like the baby, my energy is fueled by their excitement, too. Maybe they are right. Maybe I need to let go, let him show me what he is ready to do.
Resolved to at least try, I squat down and open my hands wide. My husband slowly pries chubby baby fingers from his grasp until the baby stands on his own. He pauses for a moment, his spaghetti covered arms open out to his side, matching mine. At first, his gaze fixates on the ground as if this helps his balance. Then he looks up. Our eyes lock as he flashes me a grin, two dimples lined up on either side of his chubby cheeks. His bold resolve to reach my arms propels him. Just like that, like all the siblings before him, his wobbly feet toddle forward, more like a moving fall, into my waiting arms.
I scoop him into a tight hug, forgetting all about how messy he is from dinner. His siblings cheer and we all laugh along with baby giggles. He is proud of this newfound agency. I am too. “You did it! I knew you could!” I whisper softly into his hair.
There’s no going back now. He is closer to a toddler than he ever was before. But the wonder in how my small baby can grow strong enough to explore the world is what fills my heart at this moment, not longing. When I smile down at him he looks up at me–those eyes, those dimples, that soft curly hair–and for a moment I see my baby again. I wonder if this will always be the case. Maybe no matter how big he gets–from toddlerhood to preschool and beyond–it’s this face and it’s marked joy I will recognize–my baby, always.
He’s growing, yes. But tonight it feels like an honor to be along for the ride.