Elizabeth turns eighteen months this week, which means that she is definitely no longer a baby. She hasn't been a baby for quite some time, but I don't think I realized it fully until the last few weeks. Being a girl, she started talking a few months ago and keeps adding a word or two to her vocabulary each week. After a slow start, she is confidently walking around the house, happily making as many messes as she can before someone finds her and confiscates whatever writing instrument she has managed to find despite our best efforts to keep them from her. She has even figured out how to go both up and down stairs. If we weren't leaving in three months, I'd be gearing up to potty train her in a few months.
When Kathleen was eighteen months old, she was a giant, almost old enough to head off to college. I was three months away from delivering Sophia, so Kathleen didn't have the luxury of staying a baby much longer. I needed someone who was big enough to do things on their own and maybe even help out.
But Elizabeth is the last child and has so many other siblings that fill all of the other slots - teenager, tween, older child, younger child, toddler - that nobody has really considered her as anything other than The Baby. But while none of us were noticing, she kept on growing up and turned into a toddler without our permission.
It is both strange and liberating to contemplate the end of having a baby in the house. I've had babies in the house (or on their way) for fifteen years now and been anticipating babies for much longer than that. Ever since I was a child, I've always wanted to be a mother and looked forward to that eventual day.
I'm certainly not done being a mother by any stretch of the imagination (after I'll mother is a job that never ends), but I'm now officially done with being a mother to babies. I knew, theoretically, that this day would come eventually, but the theoretical consideration of a future state and the actual arrival of that state are two different prospects entirely. I have now finished a stage of my career as a mother, and from here on I will be closing down more stages on the back end while I continue to open up new stages on the front one.
Awhile ago I realized that I will no longer have a constant baby in the house, the older babies getting replaced with new models quite regularly. Now I will have a constant teenager (soon to be two teenagers) in the house, always someone who is looking forward to and planning for their own life as an adult to begin soon. Instead of welcoming in new family members, I have to shift to sending them out on their own.
But I'm also very happy to be giving away clothes as soon as Elizabeth grows out of them. I was happy to put the infant car seat in the give-away pile, along with a pile of baby blankets and crib sheets. I'm looking forward to getting rid of the diapers and diaper pail this fall. I thrilled that I never have to fly with an infant again. I'm relieved that our travel from here on out will always be with children who can walk, talk, and eat regular table food. The children are all happy that we won't have any more agents of destruction that get into their favorite toys and books and ruin them.
But I'm also sad that I have only have one more baby to cuddle that will let me rock them as they sweetly suck their thumb, nestling themselves under my chin. I know that I will rock other babies, but they will never be my babies. I'll never again be able to elicit those deep, delighted baby laughs as I blow raspberries on soft baby tummies as they kick their legs in pleasure. Nobody will fit perfectly into the crook of my arm or fall asleep in my lap with the perfect bonelessness of baby sleep. Pretty soon nobody will even want bedtime stories any more.
But such is life - there is always a strange, disconcerting mix of both sorrow and gladness. And despite trying to decide whether I can't wait for them to grow up, or that I never want them to ever stop being babies, time continues on quite regularly without any consultation from me about how I would prefer it to flow. Once we are born, we march inevitably on to death. Or to put it less bleakly, once a baby is born, it marches on inevitably to adulthood and all the joys and sorrows that come along the way.
So whether I like it or not (and that depends on the day and the time of any particular day), my era of Mother to Babies has ended. Time for toddlerhood to begin!