Changing Motherhood: When Your Baby's No Longer A Baby

Today, you didn't need me. You didn't look for me. You didn't call for me. Image: Thinkstock.

Today, you didn't need me. You didn't look for me. You didn't call for me. Image: Thinkstock.

I know I shouldn't need you to need me, but I don't know any other way of being your mom.

Yesterday, at preschool, you took off to the play kitchen to make pretend muffins on your own.

For 11 minutes afterward, I sat on the bench outside the classroom, 55 steps away from you. Waiting. Holding my breath. Checking the clock every 30 seconds.

I imagined you mixing the batter, setting the table, turning on the play oven, arranging pots and pans... and I sat wondering what to do with my time now.

For two years, I've heard comments about you being stuck to me with glue, judgments around your being clingy or shy, concerns about you growing into a dependent adult. For two years, I have been told attachment parenting is just a ploy to permanently silence the feminist in me.

For every waking moment (and most of those spent sleeping), you have needed physical contact with me, even if it's just the brush of my cotton pants against your cheeks as you play in the sand or tousling my hair as you drift off to sleep.

When you were 10 days past my due date, it was tough on me. Even though I knew that the odds of you arriving on D-day were slim, I wanted to caress you, smother you with kisses per the deadline I was given.

But you were snug in my womb. The doctors joked you would be a mama's child.

When you were 6 months old, your father, in desperation, tried the cry-it-out method to help us all sleep better (despite knowing it could cause long-term harm).

Those were the worst 44 minutes of my life.

You weren't ready. I wasn't anywhere close to being ready. I needed to feel the undulations of your chest, just as you needed to hear my heart beat.

We slept better when we slept together.

Last month, when you left my side to run to the bakery, my heart skipped so many beats.

But then, within a minute, you turned around and squealed, “Let's go in. Us eat chocolate roll, mom!”

And it felt right. You still wanted me. Ever since I have known you as a person outside my body, you have belonged in my arms or by my side.

But today, you didn't need me. You didn't look for me. You didn't call for me.

I felt an ache in the deepest part of my heart, an awkwardness I've not experienced before. In many ways, I felt naked, exposed. Like a shriveled flower watching the buzzing bees pass by.

It was a precursor to what lay ahead. For you, knowing that I am “somewhere” around was enough. You didn't need to see me or feel me. For me, it was an engulfing loneliness, the kind only a mom knows.

Intellectually, I knew this day would come. Emotionally, I was hoping it wouldn't.

I've experienced different kinds of neediness in my life: My professional contacts have reminded me since you were 6 months old how badly I'm wanted back at work. Your father has patiently waited for me to become a friend and a wife to him again. Your grandparents have always missed spending time with their only child.

It has always felt good to be needed. To feel wanted. To feel cherished and loved.

But this, the way I needed you in those 11 minutes — it came with a lot of heartache and desperation. I know I shouldn't need you to need me, but I don't know any other way of being your mom.

Just as you're learning to navigate the world by yourself, I guess it's time for me to relearn the ropes of motherhood.

To patiently watch you find your wings, to sit in the shadows and watch you fly, to applaud you quietly from a distance. To embrace you when you decide to come back, only to go off by yourself again.

Eleven minutes may not seem like a long time, but it felt like an eternity today. I know that tomorrow, the minutes will stretch into hours — before long, you'll be having sleepovers and going to summer camp. You may become too busy for our afternoons of nothingness, too old for adding to your treasure trove of neighborhood pebbles.

My baby-wearing days will soon be behind us, and our co-sleeping routine may well be on its last stretch.

But you, my love, will always be a part of me — no matter the distance between us.  

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