We’re the little ones, my girl, you and me. You have an older brother and sister, and I have two of each. They were here first, and then we came along, the last babies.
The baby of the family knows a thing or two.
I know what it’s like to lose every board and card game—for years and years—because siblings don’t let you win like grandparents or indulgent aunties might. I know how proud you’ll feel when you finally win someday, and you’ll know that victory was hard-earned and a long time coming.
I know about being teased and wanting to play with the big kids anyway, because your world revolves around them.
I know what it’s like to be the last one on Mommy’s lap, the last one to use the toys and the last one to believe in Santa.
I know what it’s like to realize, with wonder and gratitude, that those sometimes-teasing older siblings kept that Santa secret just for you.
I know what it’s like to have a sibling teach you how to ride a two-wheeler, to urge you to jump in the pool when you’re scared, to draw out the brave part of little you that can do big things.
I know what it’s like for the teachers to know you first by your last name, the last in a family parade through the school years.
I know what it’s like to feel like a caboose, just following along with the pre-set rhythms of the family, easygoing as can be.
I know what it’s like to have your mom run into acquaintances and introduce you as “my baby,” when you are really far too old to be described as a baby and how you can feel at once embraced and embarrassed by this.
I know what it’s like to want to be bigger, to never catch up, to celebrate every birthday year last. And—you’ll understand someday—I know what it’s like to realize that it’s not so bad to be last to turn 30 or 40, to forever be the young one.
Now you are the baby of the family too–my baby–and I’m learning a thing or two about being a mother when I know you’re my last.
I know I must savor those baby cheeks and curves, the endearing mispronunciations and the endless stream of unanswerable questions, because I see them passing away from our house right before my eyes.
I know what a gift your arrival was not only to your dad and me, but also to your brother and sister, who rejoiced with us when you were born. You, my girl, had quite the welcoming party.
I know how much your siblings love you, even when you feel left behind or “too little” yet again. I see how they take your hand, and read to you, and slow their paces.
I know that you’re tough, so tough, as you scramble and scrape to keep up with the big kids.
I know that it’s tempting to spoil you with that baby face of yours next to those long-legged children of mine. But I also know that you’re capable, and that you don’t really need to be babied as much as I’d sometimes like to.
I know that whatever I’m worrying about for you right now will be OK, because I’ve done this before. Thumb-sucking, potty training, learning to read, riding a bike, all of it. It will be fine, and I can just relax and enjoy you.
I know that I savor having a child still small enough to pick up, one who fits just so in a hug, arms clasped around my neck and legs curled around my waist.
I know it won’t last long.
I know when I am folding away the outgrown clothes that there is no one to save them for.
I know you will be my last one to do it all, from starting kindergarten all the way to leaving for college.
I know I will have to let you go.
I know you will be ready.
I hope I will be too. But this I know: You will always, always be my baby.