The baby didn't sleep last night. Again. She's really not a baby anymore, I suppose, at 16 months, cutting three molars (at once...delightful), learning to count, and running faster than her little legs can carry her towards anything resembling danger.
And yet, I still see her as my baby in so many ways. She's quick to fall into my arms in moments of uncertainty, when the big, exciting world grows too big and exciting. She'll nestle her head into my neck like a fuzzy kitten, stilling for brief moments her busy business of growing up. She's relies on me, still, for so much, even though she's constantly pushing the boundaries of her independence and self-awareness.
In my head, I know she's no longer a baby, but how can I allow myself to see her as a child?
I wonder if it's because she's our third. Three children. We've reached that point where people generally assume there'll be no more additions to our family. Three kids? How nice! Four kids? How...nice? It's an interesting thing, this raised eyebrow reaction bubbling below the surface when families reach a certain size. We're not even there yet (and who knows if we ever will be), and still I sense it.
Cultural influences aside, I think what's really making it harder to accept this one running headlong into childhood is my own insecurity. What if she is my last baby? It's a mildly terrifying thought. Do I know how to be anything other than the mother of young children? How do I transition from changing diapers, wiping noses, and rocking sleepless babies in the middle of the night into...what? Who do I become when there's no longer a baby in my arms?
Motherhood truly is a mystery of constant evolution. These precious moments with our babies are fleeting, but leave powerful imprints on our very beings. Selfishly, we wish they'd stay babies forever, depend on us just a bit longer; but oh, how our hearts swell with pride as they spread their wings and fly, secure in the love we so fully gave. Somehow, seamlessly, we have to learn to embrace both ends of the spectrum.
And you know what? It's really hard.
So forgive me if for now, I go on grumbling about a baby who doesn't sleep—while secretly loving it for the echoes of “my baby” it allows. And one day, when she's grown, sleeping soundly in her bed all night as her big brother and sister do, I'll look back on these nights and smile.
And no matter who I become, however my identity as “Mom” looks in years to come, I'll treasure these moments in my heart forever.