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Seeds of something fine

Time to put on the big-girl pants

Staff writer

As a mother, the approaching end of the last vestiges of my daughter’s babyhood is a strange time. I see the swell and glow of pride as she drinks from a big-girl cup for a whole meal and I literally want to jump up and down with her. I know that feeling. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt it but I want her to enjoy every moment of that growing realization: I can!

I do look forward to even a few more moments to myself as we say good-bye to the last pacifier — no more moments of panic searching under car seats when we realize “passy” is missing. No more sinking dread if I happen to forget one on a trip. No more having one stashed in every purse and car compartment and spares at grandma’s house to be sure we can avoid trauma that brings life to a full stop until “passy” is found.

But, as she drifted off to sleep Saturday night whimpering only once for her beloved baby-cork, I went from a small sigh of relief to all-out sobbing.

I know, it’s the age-old conundrum. If you love something you must hold it gently or you risk crushing it, but still you must hold it or it may fly away.

This is motherhood, in a nutshell. And when children are young, parents are very much in the phase of more holding than letting go — probably something to do with our ancestors’ babies being carried off by wolves if they were left alone too long.

But, I know it’s a mistake to think letting go hasn’t been a part of this mothering gig already. The whole process begins with the child being physically separated from the mother, and as far as I can tell it’s all a process of incremental separation from there until she decides to go start her own life somewhere else or I kick her out (with love) and tell her she’s welcome back for temporary stays any time.

I know that the only thing standing between Lyla and the end of all signs of babyhood is learning to potty in the big-girl potty.

I wish I could say my only reaction is joy. It’s not. Part of me is heartbroken.

She is very likely the only baby I will ever have. There are so many things I would do completely differently if I had it to do over again, but that’s just my perfectionism talking.

Having absolutely nothing to do with my mothering skills, my daughter is pure light and joy. She wasn’t planned. She wasn’t well-timed. She wasn’t even supposed to be as healthy as she was. She is perfect.

She has opened a part of my heart I forgot existed and she won’t let it close, even when life hurts me so much I sometimes want to shut it off. She challenges me physically and emotionally, but not nearly as much as she blesses me and brings me joy.

I had a theory about parenting before she was born, that as long as you love with your whole being and don’t resist the way a child tugs at your soul to be vulnerable, you’ll do OK as a parent.

I still have that theory, but I extend myself quite a bit of grace in its application. Some days, I realize the vulnerability thing is secondary to, say, avoiding throwing myself on the floor and beating it with my fists, so I settle for keeping her alive and safe on those days.

My sister gave me great advice early on that has helped me with the letting go.

“Don’t worry about trying to figure out who Lyla will need you to be at every point along the way,” she told me, “you only have to be the mommy of the kid she is right now. And the great thing about kids is you don’t have to wonder what they need or want, they’re very good at showing you.” She was so right.

I think I have a lot of regret about the things I messed up along the way in the baby years, but Lyla doesn’t remember that stuff. Come to think of it, it probably didn’t matter to her at the time.

And now, she’s asking me to let it all go.

The other morning I went into her room and greeted her as I have every morning of her life with “Good morning my sweet baby, how did you sleep?” She quickly and firmly replied with a furrowed brow, “Mommy, I not a baby.”

Oh, heart! She’s right. I’m not the mommy of a baby anymore. I am suddenly the mommy of a little girl.

“Well,” I told her “you’ll always be my baby.”

She resisted, “No, mommy, I not a baby.”

“OK. How ‘bout I call you my sweet girl?”

“Yes, OK mommy. I need some breakfast.”

Telling me what she needs, in so many ways. That’s my girl. Always has been. Always will be. And she needs me to let go of the baby phase and keep her fueled for the adventures of childhood. To put on my big-girl pants and step with her into the next exciting phase.

I can! And I will.

But I reserve the right to cry about it when we no longer need diapers and I fully expect to need copious amounts of chocolate and hugs on that day.

Last modified Feb. 24, 2011

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