While the change from baby to kid to, "OMG you're an actual person" is usually gradual and subtle, there are some particular moments in a parent's life when they realize their baby is no longer a baby. What does it feel like? Somewhere between rainbows coming out of your ears and Rocky punching you in the stomach. (Maybe Rocky punching you in the stomach caused the rainbows to come out of your ears? I'm not sure.) It's brutal and beautiful and bittersweet and, unlike so many other things you will encounter as a parent, unmistakable. Oh, and also? It's sort of like Groundhog Day in that it will happen over and over and over again, somehow.
Between two children, I've probably had a dozen or so of these moments. Sometimes it's just a look or a gesture or the way they move on the playground that pokes at the emotional center of my brain. It's like some inner voice is reminding me, "Hey, remember when they needed help burping? Not so much anymore, huh?" Other times they'll demonstrate insight or intelligence that I wasn't expecting, like today, when my toddler was going on about penguins. "Penguins eat fish," she informed me. "Baby penguins are so cute. They stay with they daddy. Penguins don't walk: they waddle."
One thing these moments all have in common for me is that they all demonstrate a life or understanding of the world that has nothing to do with me. Realizing they are their own person is one of the most amazing things in the world, and sort of melancholy because, goddamnit kid, don't you even care that I used to do literally everything for you?
I asked other moms to share the moment they realize their little ones weren't so little anymore. Get your tissues, friends.
"For me, it was when [my daughter] lost her first tooth. It suddenly hit me that she was a big girl and that all her "chicklet" teeth would soon be replaced with these bigger teeth and her face would be forever changed."
"When she hopped out of my car at Kindergarten drop-off, didn't look back, and skipped over to join her friends as they walked to class. I wanted to jump out, throw her back in my car, and never let her leave the house again. Instead I cried and instantly memo'd my best friend with my sobbing heartbreak."
"I think one of the moments that stands out for me was when I woke up one morning and realized she had gotten out of bed and gone into the bathroom all by herself and was just sitting on the toilet, reading a book. Before then, she still called for me to get her up and go to the bathroom with her — she was capable of doing it by herself, but didn't want to. And then one morning she just got up quietly, grabbed a book, and went to the bathroom. And when I walked in to say hi she was all, 'Oh, hey' and kept reading. (And yes, my daughter reads on the toilet.)"
"W[hen w]e took [my daughter] to college. The car packed with her stuff and everyone in the car. We moved her into a dorm room she was to share with two other young ladies. We got there first and picked the mattress that didn't look like someone had been murdered on it. My heart was did the tarantella the whole time. We took a meal together, did the orientation thing, and then it was time to go. ... My confident, competent, always independent girl, hands in her back pockets and obviously trying not to cry said, 'But I don't know what I'm doing.' I hugged her, and I said something inane like, 'You'll be fine.' Or 'You'll figure it out.' Whatever it was has been lost in all the fear, excitement, love and insane mom-thoughts about her first baby leaving home. ... But I did know, absolutely, she'd not only figure it out, she'd shine. And she did. And that's when I knew she wasn't a baby anymore."
"A friend got tragic news and I was crying. My daughter, aged 4.5 at that time, came over to me and put her arm around me and her head on my shoulder. She asked me what was wrong and if she could help. She said, 'Everything is going to be okay mommy. I will take care of you.' [I] get tears thinking about it."
"For me, it was when he would dress himself for school all by himself. And close the door! We've been working on what privacy means (mainly for when going to the bathroom) and he's taking it seriously about getting dressed. And the fact he can dress himself, too. Also, when he does something that I used to help him with (getting a drink, a snack, reaching something that he uses his step stool for) where I step in and say, 'Here, I can help you,' he will hold his hand out towards my waist and say, 'Mom, I can do it.' Those five words probably equally make me elated to know he's learning and can do it and make me sad that he IS doing something without needing my help anymore."
"I refuse to think about it because I refuse to acknowledge that it has happened! It was the first time we went out to lunch just the two of us, and she was able to talk to me and interact. It was like I was out to lunch with another person. She was about 1."
"My 2 year old this morning at breakfast today told me, 'I don't particularly like that piece of salami. I pwefer the kind you usuawwy get.' I know he's said and done plenty of things before that that remind me he's a small independent person, but the use of 'particularly' and 'prefer' in context in one go really got me."
"Seeing my daughter join in games with her brother and his friends and be able to (kind of) keep up has been wonderful but also sort of hard. She's my last baby, so to see her become a kid is bittersweet."