There are seasons of parenthood where you can see childhood stages coming to an end. Diapers lead into potty-training, cribs lead into beds, and nursing/bottles eventually wean. In my experience, these stages have had a build-up, a preparatory phase, a time of transition whereby I could mull things over in my analytical brain and get a handle on my emotional brain. As a parent, of course each new childhood stage brings excitement and the chance to watch my kids grow and prosper, but another part of me mourns the passing of the previous stage.
When I was younger, being a mother was never on my radar. I didn’t play with dolls and dream about having children like some little girls do; in fact, I used to wonder if I had any maternal instinct in me at all. But when my son was born in 2009, my new role turned into my life’s greatest joy. As I’ve been along for the ride of watching these little people grow, my joy has also grown.
But with each passing stage, there’s a tiny bit of me that wonders if I soaked it up enough while it was happening right in front of me. Did I cherish their curled-up newborn bodies? Their haphazard crawling styles? Their oh-so-sweet toddler-speak? Their unsteady gait? I can’t recall their baby coos or three-word sentences unless I see them on old videos, and the clear memories of their first steps and their first words are already waning. They say that the days are long but the years are short. They’re right.
So, when we ended a parenting stage abruptly this weekend, I didn’t even see it coming.
You see, my daughter, who just turned seven last week, has been crawling into our bed halfway through the night for nearly four years. Some of you may be shocked by that, but it’s never been a big deal to us. Our house has a main-floor Master with kid’s bedrooms upstairs, and when we moved in 2015, her three-year-old self found comfort by wandering down the stairs, usually between midnight and 2am, and sleeping snuggled in between my husband and I. At first, we attributed it to the move and all the changes in her life, and then it just became a habit we didn’t care to change. Yes, some nights we got kicked by little feet and elbows, but most of the time she was a welcomed addition who whispered to me a “mom, snuggle” request that became our pattern. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, and I wanted to soak it up for as long as I could.
This past Friday night, we returned from a March-break vacation in Arizona, with a three-hour time change to manage. As I tucked her in much later than usual, I mentioned that she needed to stay in her room that night, rather than coming downstairs with us. I had to be at work early on Saturday morning, and my 7:30am alarm would feel like 4:30am in Phoenix; she needed to sleep in and get her body rested instead of waking up with me. And she did stay in her bed all night, likely exhausted from travel and a busy trip. The next morning she proudly announced: “I don’t need to sleep in your bed anymore. I’m going to stay in my bed all night from now on.”
Just like that.
And she did. For three nights there were no pitter-patter of little feet on the stairs, no drinks from the sippy cup on my nightstand, no tip-toeing out of my bedroom in the morning to allow a sleeping child to slumber. Done. Onto the next stage, and I didn’t even see it coming. And then last night, I awoke to find her beside me once again.
So although this stage is ending, it’s not finished quite yet. Have I soaked it up enough? Without a doubt.
But I’ll still miss it.
My baby is not such a baby anymore.