Monday, March 31, 2014

Goodbye Bottles, Hello Little Girl

I didn't think I'd ever feel any nostalgia over a baby growing up, yet as I put E3's last bottles in the dishwasher recently, there was a tinge of sadness.

It was a marker of our baby growing up. Sippy cups are replacing bottles and cow milk supplementing the breast milk on which she subsisted her first year. Yes, she still wants Mommy when available, but when she's not E3 is quite happy with a cup of milk or water.

As a side note, if you've never been the caregiver for an EBF (entirely breastfed) baby, it's quite different. There were constantly bottles of milk in the refrigerator, and as emptied they needed to be washed and given to Mommy to refill, even if I really didn't need to run the dishwasher. There was frozen milk in the freezer, an emergency standby supply, just in case. A lot to keep up with sometimes, but never any formula to mix, and once I got used to the different handling methods, it was great.

Beyond that, there was the fact that she absolutely, teetotally refused to eat baby food of any kind and the best we could determine it was because she didn't need it for anything. As a result, there was none of the sitting before a high chair trying to entice an infant to eat, no spoons knocked in the floor, no far flung vegetables or nasty bibs. No, when she began eating it was only the things she could put into her mouth and her first food of choice was crackers and gnawing on organic apples.

I've never been a big fan of tiny babies. Their utter helplessness, neediness, and inability to grasp what has happened to life as they knew it from the time their little brains engaged until birth always overwhelmed me. I spent six weeks home with my two children when they were born, and was dying to get back to work before I totally lost my mind. Yet, when I was working from home and my daughter began having children, I took on the dreaded task of time alone with tiny people again. Not once, but three times, each time dreading it as much as if I'd never spent time with a baby.

I much prefer them after they're functioning in an upright position, so any trace of regret at the tangible end of infancy is a bit baffling.

A bit of it, I'm sure, comes from the feeling that she's the last grandchild. There was always that expectation that my son would find himself and then find a woman (preferably in that order) and have the children he wanted and I had already girded my loins to be grandma babysitter again. Now I know that won't happen.

Part of it is that just as losing bottles means she's growing, it means I'm getting older as well. So are her sisters and everyone else I care about as far as that goes. All too soon the house where I never had any time because of three demanding little girls will be the house where I have too much time because I'll still work from home and they will all be off at school.

Just as five or six years ago, I could not have imagined how my life would be today, I cannot imagine how my life will be in five years when they're all marching through the doors of a school each morning instead of being dropped off at Ma's house. But then again, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because other than the tsunami that losing my son has proved to be, the last five years have been a worthwhile adventure.

Still, putting away the bottles is a mixture of relief and nostalgia.

No more bottle parts to take apart and sanitize in the dishwasher, no bottles to heat, no forgotten milk to worry about. But at the same time, no more long snuggles over a bottle that segues into a nap, no sweet milky breath and milk drunk babies with a pleasantly baffled expression.

Instead, I have E3, who has already mastered climbing onto the craft table and yelling for help, who chose "bad" as one of her first words, who generally melts into tears and drama if she even senses the word "no" in your voice. I have the crayon chewer who nevertheless feels she should be part of coloring activities, in fact of all activities that involve her older sisters. The still dark-haired child who usually looks so much like her mother, then assumes an expression in which she becomes a whole different person.

Yes, I'm sad to bid goodbye to the baby who was so different from her sisters, but I'm also anxious to meet the little person she is fast becoming. I want to see where she fits in the puzzle of her family life, the niche she fills between her sisters, the role she takes as her own as she grows.

So as I wash and put away the last of E3's bottles, I'm trying not to dwell too much on what is behind us. We still have a lot in front of us and much to learn about one another, just as I'm still learning about her wonderful sisters. Yes, the baby is really gone, but the wonderful little girl taking her place will be even more fun and more of an adventure.

Besides there's nothing that says she absolutely has to be the last baby. (Don't get me wrong, oh daughter of mine. That does not mean we need another to fill her place now.) I know people who are caring for their great-grandchildren. So while I'm in absolutely no hurry to see our little girls grown, I guess I'd best take care of myself in the meantime.

We never know what the future will hold.

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