No one prepared me for this: The end of my baby's babyhood / by Christina Rosalie

He's out in the sandbox, sunlight falling across his cheeks, and I am at the table writing. Through the window I watch him wipe his eye; watch as he rubs sand into his forever long eyelashes. He rubs it again, this time like I have taught him-—not with his sandy fingers, but with the sleeve of his jacket, a hand-me-down his brother wore at three and a half. The sand still clings.

“MAMA!” he yells, eyes close, face upturned. “MAMA!”

I run out in bare feet across the cold November grass, to cup his soft warm cheeks in my hand and brush the sand from his eyes.

“Thank you Mama.” He says, this small exclamation of gratitude something secondary to his nature. He grins as I kiss face, and returns happily to playing. I stand there for a minute, then go back indoors where the maple floors are warm and golden with slanting sun, and my work awaits.

This is the boy/baby who as of Sunday no longer sleeps in a crib. He’s been climbing out for months, agile and sure footed. He’s been swinging with the ease of a gymnast over the railing, in and out, the crib growing less and less sturdy with every vault, and finally I made the decision to put it away.

I didn't expect that he would be terribly sad.

“I’m still da baby!” he wailed that night, sitting on the potty, his face in his hands.

The next night he said, “My new bed is so cozy. The crib went bye bye. I'm big. ” (Yes, he said cozy.)

And just like that, I can feel the way things are ending. His babyhood. And with it an entire span of time where motherhood was straightforward and consuming. Where my physical presence could solve nearly anything; and a kiss could most likely solve the rest.

Now there is separation. There is the complex terrain of emotion. There is getting to know this person he is becoming, beaming-faced, hilarious, stubborn.

Neither of us are quite ready for the way things are inevitably shifting. At the dinner table he's taken to crawling into my lap, wanting to be close to me, wrecking havoc with my dinner plate. Some nights I'm all patience and games: "Here comes a bite for the hyena, the lion, the hippo." Other nights, like tonight, I'm worn thin by the way he squirms, his strong little body knocking me off kilter. But when I set him firmly back in his chair he begins to pout and then cry.

And I know the years to come will pass just like he counts now: “One, two, three, four, five, eleven, eighteen.”

It’s not something I expected or even considered: That it would feel this way to be here, at the other side of babyhood: Bittersweet and uncertain. He’s just shy of being done with diapers, and with that, he’ll be all kid, hair in his eyes, doing tricks on his bike, swinging ling a monkey from his bunk bed frame.

The world narrows so much when you’re in the thick of mothering in the first years—-when your kids are small, and then suddenly the aperture shifts, and they're chest high and learning to read.

How to do this gracefully? This part where I try to stop calling my baby “my baby?”