Parenting Is Bittersweet When Your Child Is Teetering Between Baby And Boy

Parenting Is Bittersweet When Your Child Is Teetering Between Baby And Boy

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We’re in it now, this space between baby and boy.

We’re teetering, delicately and precariously, a roller coaster in its graceful pause just before the plunge. It was a little rickety at first, climbing that steep, steep slope: sleepless nights, endless spit-up, needless crying. I felt each click-click-click of the ascent. But for now, we are floating here, balancing above the next phase of your life.

With your sister, I didn’t realize it was coming. I just woke up one morning, and she was a little girl. Somehow, in one dreamless night, her ringlets grew out, her face changed, her speech solidified. I didn’t know there was a space between until it was gone.

But with you, I recognize the signs. I feel fortunate that I can see it this time around, grateful for the opportunity to soak in every last minute of your babyhood.

In a little while, everyone will be able to decipher your sentences. You will learn to speak in a way that even strangers can comprehend. You are already saying so much, but it is a language just for Mama, things only I know, words only I can understand. I am your translator. I get to tell the world what you mean.

I love how you need me for that.

Soon, you’ll have opinions about your food, your friends, your clothes. You might have favorite shirts, or prefer shorts to pants, or reject every outfit I choose just because you can. But this morning, I snapped closed your onesie, and you giggled at the sound. I zipped up your fleece. I had to put on your socks.

I love how you need me for that.

Any minute now, your precious drunken stagger will, almost mid-stride, turn into a run. You will learn to jump — really jump, like you pretend to when you bend your round little knees over and over, your face beaming with pride. One day your feet will leave the floor, and those baby knee-bends will be gone. You will throw farther. You will climb higher. But right now, I carry you when you stumble. I lift you onto the swings. I walk beside you on the stairs.

I love how you need me for that.

You are still utterly unselfconscious, still blissful in your you-ness. You still share, immediately and generously, everything: toys, snacks, kisses. You are unburdened by the weight of your surroundings, and in this brief period of life when you have known no unkindness, you are still pure and earnest and good. No one has teased you on the playground. No one has ever hurt your feelings. You are still so innocent and unbruised.

But tomorrow, your hair might smell of boy instead of baby, that sweet scent replaced by something unfamiliar. You might wake up and hand me your security blanket and never ask for it again. And all the folds on those impossibly scrumptious baby thighs will melt away into our past.

How can I preserve those cheeks before a tiny jawline peeks through? How can I bottle that belly laugh? How can I keep those chubby little feet?

In this in-between, you are a heartbreaking blend of attempted independence and desperate reliance. You still hold my hand, happily and willingly, and you are not the only one who is scared to let go.

Today we went to a parent/toddler class. We took a spot in the back because you seemed wary of so much singing and dancing and clapping. At first, you just stared at all the babies, realizing, perhaps for the first time, that there was a world outside of Mama. You slid off my lap and stepped cautiously toward the music. But halfway to the front, you sensed an absence, and you turned, searching for my face, just to make sure I was still there.

I was. I am. I will be.

So while we rest here in this space between, let me test your restraints one last time before we careen downhill. Let me just make sure you’re safe. I love how you need me for that.

And you can let me know if I am holding on too hard, baby. I’m not ready — so you will have to tell me when it’s time.

For that, I need you.