I Had No Idea How Hard It Would Be To Leave The Baby Years

I Had No Idea How Hard It Would Be To Leave The Baby Years

Elizabeth Broadbent

My tiny, squalling baby, the smiley one, the one who reached for me always with chubby fists and gummy grin — he’s 3 years old now. Three and a half, if you want to be precise, which you must be at this age, when they grow so fast and learn so quick. 

Three and a half. I remember being 3 1/2, of having feelings, of being a person whole and entire at that age. Baby Sunny is no longer such a baby, though if you ask him, he will insist, “Me not big. Me tiny!” But all his protestations will not erase the milestones: the potty-training accomplished, the speech intelligible to outsiders. Only seldom, now, do I strap him to my back. He sleeps in our bed, but he doesn’t sleep on us; he sprawls alone, limbs akimbo, Paw Patrol stuffie clutched under an arm.

I don’t wear nursing bras or worry about nursing access. He still cuddles. He wants kisses and love and hugs. But he drew a person today. It had arms and legs and eyes and a sword. 

And just like that, I was no longer a baby mom. I was barely a toddler mama. I was a mom to a little boy. Three little boys, to be exact: 7, 5, and 3 1/2 years old.

It’s been coming, this transition, for a long time. I used to be not only a babywearer, but a certified babywearing educator, because yes, there are groups that certify these things, and yes, I was a member of them. I was the woman who met you at the door at your first meeting. I had my baby all wrapped up in some complicated, intimidating carry that ended with him high up on my back. I was the expert, the teacher, the kind, experienced mama who helped the newbies.

Babywearing inevitably moved into other things. We could bond over how we fed our babies. We could talk about diapers — cloth or disposable? We could compare how often our babies woke at night, when we started them on solids, and what kind. I could find a woman I had absolutely nothing in common with and talk to her for hours. My older sons only lent me more street cred. I’d been there, done that.

Some of these women became my best friends. And then, as Sunny’s baby years dissipated, I stopped wearing so often. I quit being certified. I recognized that my baby was no longer the tiny squish these brand-new mamas brought in, and while I loved him exactly as he was, that stung. Our conversational topics were also limited. So those women who were my best mama friends drifted away. We had nothing in common but babyhood, and my baby wasn’t a baby anymore. We didn’t like the same bands, or read the same novels, or rant about the same politics, or make the same art.

Suddenly, I was a woman with three sons and no tribe. I wasn’t a baby mom anymore. I didn’t cruise the Target baby section for deals like I used to. I didn’t reflexively stalk cloth diaper or baby carrier swaps. Suddenly, I’d lost over half my Facebook groups. We homeschool, so I met other homeschooling moms. But I didn’t seem to fit in anywhere. There’s the hippie kayaker whose daughter my oldest son wants to marry. The only other boy who loves Spinosaurus as much as my middle son, whose mom is sweet enough to include me in her group. The mom whose daughter and son are as kind as she is. I’m grateful for them. We have some more in common than I did with the women I hung out in babyhood. But the friendships seem more fragile. We see each other less often — there is less time for playdates as kids get older.

I used to clean my baby friends’ bathrooms. It was a sign of love. I’ve seen their houses in states of total disarray. I’ve brought them a latte when they felt too tired to make coffee for themselves. I miss this kinship.

It’s hard to know where I fit these days. I don’t have a baby anymore. But my son isn’t in preschool, so I don’t get the immediate camaraderie of classroom moms, of pickup and drop-off and class parties. I find myself gravitating toward old friends: to the photog fashionista and her poet husband I’ve sadly neglected. To the single dad college buddy whose son plays with Sunny. I wear more makeup these days. I dress up more. I work out more too. My husband and I go out for dinner and a movie. And while I love this — I like my makeup, my new dresses, my workout routine and my dates — I find myself missing my sure place in the world.

I used to know that someone needed me, all the time. Now he’s big enough to be left with others. He’s big enough to tell me to go away, and yell at the dog, to whine to watch Ninjago. I used to be needed. I didn’t know that I needed to be needed. I didn’t know that needing was such a fundamental part of who I was. And now that it’s gone, it’s left a blank space. I need to fill it — with friends, with books, with art and poetry and music and date nights.

I need to fill it. But the needing was so easy. The filling is much harder.