My daughter, my baby, barely needs a stool to help in the kitchen anymore. She stands at my side rolling out dough, perfectly placing cookie cutters like puzzle pieces to cut as many cookies as she can. She does this without prompting. “Mommy, I can do it,” she says. I stand back, reminded all too often these days of how much my kids can do alone and how much less they rely on me. They yearn to be older and independent and capable at times when I just want to hold their hands and show them how and want them to need me.
My little girl is turning 6 this week. It’s not a monumental birthday. It’s not a special age when anything big happens. Turning 5 was huge because kindergarten is a milestone, a turning point from that preschool life of naps and cuddles and sippy cups to homework and adjustment and real problems, to independence. To life away from mom.
But 6? What’s so hard about 6? We survived kindergarten. We did great. Now it’s on to first grade. That’s the problem. From here on, it zips by. The baby fat slowly melts away. By the end of this year, it will be gone. Already taller and thinner, she hardly looks like my baby anymore. I stare at her in amazement and wonder which night it was that she sprang up. When did I miss this?
I can’t buy her those cute Mary Jane shoes anymore. They only make them in toddler sizes and she’s just outgrown that. Everything looks too grown-up for a first-grader, too teen.
She barely fits in my lap now. Her limbs dangle off to the sides like a rag doll. Her head no longer fits neatly under my chin, and we nearly have to sit side-by-side for comfort. I can barely lift her without a lot of grunting and bending my knees first in preparation for her weight. It’s such a workout, and it never used to be.
I’ll admit, this is the age I’ve waited for. When my kids were babies, I was drunk on love and that warm baby smell. But I spent a lot of time dreaming about the wonderful things we’d get to do together when they were this age. Camping, crafting, reading together. I love, LOVE, doing those things with them. I love talking to them and teaching them. Oh, it’s challenging and I want to pull my hair out sometimes, but I never quite adored the baby stage. I had enough of the wiping and the crying and sleep deprivation. I’ve waited for this. Making cookies with them. Choking on my breakfast when they announce my husband’s super long stray ear hair to half a restaurant. Babies’ surprises usually only involve bodily fluids.
Now that we’re here, in this wonderful long-awaited era, I’m pretty damn scared. I feel like a houseful of unexpected guests just arrived and I’m running around in a panic because I’m not ready. I don’t want to miss it. And I want it to slow down. When I secretly wished the whole baby part would speed up just a smidge, I openly beg for this time not to. Because I know this is the best time of my life. Greedy, I know. But they’ll get to have their fun. Before long, my kids will be older and have wonderful lives and experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They deserve that and I look forward to seeing who they become. But, no hurry.
For now, hearing my kids say, “Hey, let’s pretend…” is music to my ears and there are still a lot of firsts to be part of. That first soccer goal. That first sleepover. That first trip whale watching that I can’t wait to take them on. We still have lots to look forward to. I still catch a glimpse of that baby in there somewhere, in a coy smile or a sideways glance. It lasts only a second, but it fills my heart.
So happy birthday to my baby girl who is turning bigger this week.