The baby of our family is no longer a baby.
She turned five this year. She talks a mile a minute, rides her scooter on one leg with no hands, and is learning to read. She’s sweet and creative and has the best sense of humor that makes me belly laugh daily. She has long, strong legs, and her round toddler cheeks have morphed into something more mature. All remnants of babyhood and toddlerhood have long since gone from her.
She is all little girl—a kid with the world at her fingertips, ready to explore everything life has to offer. I watch in wonder as she grows, eager to keep up with her brothers who are her heroes and best friends.
It’s bittersweet to know that with every new phase she enters, she’s leaving one behind for all of us. She’s bringing up the rear, the most perfect conclusion we ever could have dreamt for our family.
Last week, she was sick with a cold. She had a fever and a nasty cough, and for two days the only way she could seem to get any restful sleep was in my arms, propped up and nestled against my chest—just the way she liked to sleep when she was a baby.
So for two days, I pushed off as much of my to-do list as possible and held her just like that—because here’s what I’m learning about motherhood: Your youngest child will always be your baby.
Even though she won’t look like it or sound like it anymore. Her movements will become more sure. Her voice will change, and her sweet little mispronunciations will correct themselves.
It’s not that you’ll coddle her. You’ll still teach her the same things she needs to know to become a productive big kid and later, an adult. How to make her bed. How to fold her clothes. How to brush her teeth by herself and clear her plate from the table.
In a lot of ways, you’ll find she’s naturally even more independent than her older siblings were at her age—perhaps because your hands are more full so she learns by necessity, or perhaps because she’s always watching and soaking everything in.
Sometimes she’ll want to sleep in her own room. She’ll arrange her blankets just so and choose her favorite stuffies to cuddle with. She’ll start her own audiobook, turn out her lights, and settle in so quickly that she’s already sleeping by the time you make the rounds to her bedroom.
Other times, she’ll ask to sleep in your bed, nestled between the two people who love her most. Even though you know it will mean a more restless night for you, you say yes . . . because you know eventually there will be a last time she asks.
There will be mornings when she is halfway through a bowl of cereal she poured for herself by the time you get to the kitchen. She’ll grin confidently, and you’ll wonder when she got so big, but you’ll also be so proud—and honestly, maybe a little relieved—by her budding independence. This is a new chapter for both of you.
And when she’s sick, she’ll still climb into your lap and ask you to hold her like you did when she was an infant, because your arms are still the safest place she’s ever known. And instead of rushing off to do a gazillion things, you’ll welcome it—because you know soon she won’t fit there anymore. No one will.
You’ll realize with an ache in your chest that she’s the last baby you rocked, the last toddler you tucked in, the last preschooler you kissed on her first day of school. You’ll share a lot of lasts with her, no matter how old she gets. And one day, you’ll slip up and call her baby.
“I’m not a baby anymore, mom,” she’ll say. To which you’ll smile and respond, “I know. But you’ll always be my baby.”
She’ll giggle and wrap her growing arms around you and bury her head into the crook of your neck the same way she always has because she feels it too. As long as you’re living, your baby she’ll be.