When the baby turns five, you’ll breathe a big sigh of relief. You’ve made it out of the baby years with your sanity intact. No more diapers. He can mostly feed himself. He puts on his own pants. He can play independently. He can tell you what he needs and sometimes he can even help meet his own needs. But that sigh of relief will catch in your throat.

It went by too fast. He was just a teeny thing. Just squishy and precious and you would drink in his smell and dance cheek-to-cheek in the midnight hours when the whole rest of the world was asleep. He would charm anybody with his smile and because he was the baby, you knew how fast these days would go. You did your best to do what the old ladies at the grocery store always told you to do— you cherished every moment. But all of your cherishing couldn’t slow down time and the day is finally here.

The baby is five.

So with an odd mix of grief and delirious excitement of newfound freedom, you sell or giveaway the Pack ‘n Play and the high chair and the stack of sippy cups and bibs that have been in a forgotten kitchen cabinet for too long. You feel a sense of nostalgia when you see the toddler at church wearing the once-favorite t-shirt of your once-tiny son that you passed along. You’ll find yourself wandering through the baby toy aisle or the racks of little clothes only to remember you aren’t in that stage anymore. You put the Little People farm in the box to give away, only to realize maybe the grandkids will want to play with that someday.

That’s when it hits you. Grandkids. Will that be the next time you’re buying little outfits and picking up a highchair again?

The Baby is five. He’s still little. He still needs you. But he’s not a baby. Sometimes that thought makes you deeply sad. But sometimes it reminds you that you’ve entered a beautiful new season together.

When the baby is five, you can do all the things that were such a struggle before. Even simple grocery store trips become fun outings together instead of nightmares you barely survive. You can think about long family vacations to national parks instead of having to plan all of life around nap schedules and diaper changing breaks. Your car no longer smells vaguely of sour milk and you don’t have to break out the odd dance maneuvers required to find a lost pacifier behind the driver’s seat. When the baby is five, you might even go a day without hearing anybody cry. And then one day you’ll realize it’s been a week since anybody cried. Or two. And this is your new normal and you never even saw it coming.

And when you reach to pull your newly 5-year-old baby from the car, he will tell you that he doesn’t need your help because he’s big now. And you will feel proud and useless all at once. The skills you’ve learned over all these years parenting little ones are now the tips you pass along at baby showers and during rushed conversations as you pass a harried mother of toddlers in the hall at church. All the wisdom you’ve gained is now to help benefit others, but there’s no need for you to remember feeding schedules or when he last went to the potty or how many ounces of milk he’s supposed to drink. Now you’re on to soccer schedules and playdates with school friends.

But some things never change. He will still want to be kissed when you tuck him in at night. He will still want you and only you when he skins his knee. He needs to hear that he’s loved and lovable a thousand times a day, even when he pretends he doesn’t hear you. He is not grown quite yet, even when he’s sure he is.

However the world sees this child, you will still see the baby. Thirty years from now, Lord willing, he may look like a successful adult, but you will still see the baby.

When you see him standing at the altar, waiting on his bride, your mind will flashback to his giggle when you did a silly dance and the way he insisted on following his older siblings everywhere and how he used to sleep on the floor next to your bed on Saturday mornings. You will look at this man and you will still see the baby. And that is as it should be. We all need someone who remembers when we were dependent and scared and helpless and they chose to love us anyway, not because of what we could offer them, but because we were a person and that’s what made us worthy of being loved. It’s a love that lasts through all seasons.

Because no matter how old he is, he will always be your baby.

Maralee Bradley

Maralee is a mom of six pretty incredible kids ages 8 and under. Four were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care in Nebraska) and two were biological surprises. Prior to becoming parents, Maralee and her husband were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise 17 boys during their five year tenure. Maralee is passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making her family a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries and doing it all for God’s glory. Maralee can be heard on My Bridge Radio talking about motherhood on "A Mother's Heart for God" and what won't fit in a 90 second radio segment ends up at www.amusingmaralee.com.