Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on my son's short life (what's new?). It seems like the first year was just a whirlwind. Sadly, I don't remember much about it. I know that I was probably very tired and was often in a bad mood (because that's what happens when I'm exhausted) and didn't get out much, so maybe my amnesia is a good thing. The second year was all about learning and growing. He grew from an unstable, newly mobile, almost mute lump into a loud and agile runner, climber, and singer. But during that second year, there were still a lot of signs of baby-hood around the house: diapers (for most of it), high chair in the kitchen, gates at the top and bottom of our stairs. The changes we saw were huge, but in many ways they were very subtle.
Suddenly, as we enter his third year, the progress is more obvious. A couple of weekends ago, the stair gates came down and the high chair, a fixture in our kitchen for the last year and a half, got replaced by a booster seat. We're teaching manners and expecting consistency with chores (clearing his plate, putting away toys). Play is more imaginative and independent. Instead of requiring locks on all the cabinets and drawers, he is able to learn where he is welcome to explore and where he is not. Most notably, a potty-training lapse forced us to reexamine our routines, which led me to the conclusion that we needed to night-train the little man, as it must be confusing to be expected to stay dry all day but not at night...which meant cutting out liquids in the evening...which meant eliminating the bedtime water cup...which was a REALLY BIG DEAL.
That sippy cup of water has been Asher's pacifier for the last year. Never a fan of actual binkies and a horrible sleeper most of his life, we let him sleep with formula bottles until he was about a year old and finally started cutting some teeth (note: I don't advocate that because of the potential for tooth decay, but in a kid who has no teeth, I'm not sure it's a big no-no). At that point, we converted to a spill-proof sippy cup of water, and it became an integral part of the bedtime routine. He could guzzle the stuff down. Recently, he even started calling for refills during his wind-down process. Cutting out the water has been hard on him. It's the first thing he requests after dinner and the last thing he cries for as he falls asleep. He is heartbroken, and it breaks our hearts to say, "No." If I had to name the most monumental change in our household over the last two years, this would be it.
Yet, we have seen big results. He is learning to fall asleep with real self-soothing, and he's sleeping through the night without getting up at night to pee. His pull-up stayed dry so many nights that we eliminated it completely, and with that, the Diaper Genie went out to pasture. He suddenly remembers that pee goes in the potty and not in his pants. Change can be painful, but often you are rewarded for your struggle.
As I have considered all of this, I have also been struck with the realization that my baby is now a kid. Part of him wanted to stay a baby. In many ways, we wanted him to stay a baby too, but at some point, you know what your child needs to grow and thrive, and as a parent, you are compelled to help him. You know that your kid will be better for it. Still, there remains sadness for everyone. Asher cried and tried to put the stair gates back up. He understood what was happening better than I expected him to. It's no wonder to me that siblings are often born two to three years apart. Your one-year-old might be a toddler but in many ways is still your baby. Your two-year-old is rapidly leaving baby-hood behind. Decisions are harder. Protests are louder. The changes are more bittersweet. You feel a void. You fill it.
However, when I look at this more closely, I see an old world opening up to me. In the last few weeks, I have worked on creating a physical space for myself. Before Asher was born, our house, though always a work in progress, was furnished and decorated, and I had an office for myself. I happily converted my office into a nursery, and over the last two years, I convinced myself that it was OK that the house was becoming less and less put-together as the days passed. Toys everywhere. Furniture rapidly deteriorating. Piles of stuff all over because there is no good spot for anything. The dining room was decorated for Christmas for a full year. Two years into parenthood, I figured that was just what having kids was about.
And then we hit two, and Asher rapidly transitioned from a big baby to a little kid. He started wanting to go in a room alone and saying, "Mommy to leave!" These words crushed me at first, but I soon realized that he relishes his independence and can actually be
trusted not to kill himself if left alone in a room for a few minutes. I started toying with ideas about converting our guest room into a playroom for him. I started seeing that maybe one day, we could reclaim our house. Then my husband started encouraging me to make a "playroom" of my own, an idea I had bounced around for a few months but never felt entitled to act on. But with Asher's new-found independence, I have also started to develop a sense of independence again, a realization that at some point, my life is going to involve something other than making sure that my child is safe, healthy, and not destroying everything in sight. I might one day soon find more time for my hobbies. I might get to read a book for pleasure. I might be able to keep my home looking attractive, organized, and comfortable again.
As fast as Asher's growing-up suddenly is, my adjustment to this role change is as slow as his adjustment to water-free nights. I have been fighting it. It took me two weeks to order the sofa for my space, and as I wait for that comfy lounge to arrive, I still can't quite settle into my new area. But at some point, we'll settle into the new normal. Asher will stop asking to be carried upstairs "like a baby," and I'll be OK not watching his every move. Seeing us all move through this transition, although I know we all feel growing pains, I realize that we can't wait to see where this adventure takes us next.
It just gets better and better!