My baby turned five this week. It’s a spectacular age. Every day she becomes more and more herself, with a truly shocking amount of personality regularly on display. She is full of the wonderful contradictions that come with transition, poised on the cusp of being a bona fide big kid, but with one chubby foot still in babyhood. I love everything about this magical limbo.
She is learning to read, proudly recognizing her friends’ names as we wrote them on their birthday invitations, but still wants to curl up in my lap for bedtime stories. At her swim party, she cannon-balled and splashed and frolicked with a wild horde of fellow merfolk but wanted me nearby, never more than an arm’s length away.
She dresses herself in the mornings, but still wants me to brush and braid her hair. She pushes her big sister’s buttons with unerring precision, but refuses to sleep without her at night.
Despite being vastly too big for such things, she still asks to be held and wheedles for piggyback rides up the stairs. In the next breath, she announces her independence at the top of her lungs. The other day, she insisted on walking to church. No one else was particularly interested in doing so because it was cold and windy, but her mind was made up. So my older kids piled into the van and I drove very slowly while she trotted along beside the car, grinning like the Cheshire cat.
These are the things we do for our youngest children.
My baby is strong and fast and sure. Self-doubt isn’t a word in her vocabulary, although I know that in just a few short years, it will start creeping in. I can see it in her older sister, who at nine has already started expressing dissatisfaction with her body and its abilities. Nine years old and she worries that she is too skinny. Oh, sweet child.
But my littlest has no such reservations or inhibitions yet. She believes her body exists to do her bidding and she knows, really knows all the way down to her toes, that she is powerful and capable. She puts on her new tennis shoes and announces – “these make me run extra fast! Watch!” – then sprints through the house, while I count how many seconds it takes her to return.
The very last vestiges of babyhood are almost gone. She still boasts a slight Buddha belly and a glimmer of chub rolls on her thighs, but I see them dwindling with every passing second, just as her adorable toddler-isms and baby giggles are fading away, replaced with more precise diction and a deeper laugh.
But when she sleeps, I can see the baby in her. She has philosophical objections to her bed and sleeps most nights curled up in a beanbag chair on the floor. She runs hard and plays hard and sleeps hard – often falling asleep before the last story is finished. In the morning, there’s an aura about her that I can best describe as fuzzy. There’s a softness that comes with sleepiness as she blinks and stretches, and in those split seconds, I can see her infant self nuzzling against my arms.
Then she springs out of bed and the moment passes because she’s a ball of energy, digging into her dresser drawers for the day’s ensemble. My girl appreciates good fashion. She has a pair of pink cowboy boots that she wears regularly with brightly-colored leggings, tutus, and sunglasses. She strikes a pose in the driveway before school and demands – “Do I look like a rock star?”
When you’re in the trenches of parenting three children close together in age, it’s easy to think of them as a collective. They are “the kids” much of the time. Celebrating my baby’s birthday provided a moment to pause and bask in the glory of her individuality. I see her passing from one phase into another and I can’t wait to discover what’s next.