Last night, I took a bath with Autumn. She has been sick lately, and we had noticed that she seemed skinnier from not having much of an appetite, but last night her little belly was the roundness I would expect from a toddler. She happily splashed and wanted me to keep filling a small, orange plastic cup with water and then pouring the water over her hands. Each time, I clearly said the word “water” accompanied by the sign. Eventually, she raised her hand to her chin in a faint copy of what I had been trying to teach her.
As I looked into her bright face, cheeks flushed from the warm water, I was so tired. I could only hope to finish out the evening by tucking her into bed and then maybe reading for a few minutes before I would succumb to Netflix. Still not fully recovered from the sickness that has been moving through our house for nearly two weeks, Ger and I are dragging ourselves through the days, with sore throats, runny noses, and hacking coughs as passengers.
It would be one thing if it were just the older kids, because we could easily proclaim “movie day!” and take it easy. Not so much with an 18-month old, who had regained energy from her own illness. She moved quickly from her toy food truck, to using chunky toddler crayons to color on paper, to reading books, to an annoying plastic car that makes way too many sounds. Earlier that morning, I had sat by her side while she pushed plastic shapes into her food truck. Star. Rectangle. Square. Repeat. Each time turning the shape until she figured out how to make it fit, proclaiming “Yay!” when she was successful, and then trying again.
As I sat in the bathtub with her, thinking only about bedtime, I thought about how young she is. Such a large gap in age between her and her brothers, who are 9 and 6. How self-sufficient they are, when she still needs so much attention. No “days off” for adults feeling under the weather when there is a toddler in the house. And with a slight pang, I pictured her older. My due date with Nelle being last week, I thought about having a three-year-old instead of an 18-month-old. How different that family configuration would have been. How different my day would have been.
In many ways, Autumn still feels like a baby and not a toddler. Her lack of walking contributes a lot to that, as we still have to pick her up to move her from room to room or when we are out of the house. It has prolonged her baby-ness. In addition to the never-ending cringing that occurs whenever I see a pregnancy announcement, I now also turn away when I see a baby, usually months younger, begin to walk. We waited so long for our rainbow to be born, and the idea that she faces additional challenges is hard to swallow. I know it is not forever, and soon she will walk and I will likely wish that she were back to crawling when she goes tearing through the house, but for this time in-between, I envy the babies whose milestones were met without worry.
And yet, I look at pictures from a year ago, when she was still so little and how quickly time has passed. This time, I know “she is my last.” When she is done crawling, that is it. There will be no other crawling babies in this house. No other first steps. When Quentin hit those milestones (and he was an early walker) I cheered and encouraged him. Later, after losing Nelle and Iris, when having a third baby at home seemed improbable, I remember thinking “What if he was it? What if he was the last, and I didn’t know it at the time?” I would have still cherished his achievements for him, but there would have been another layer in knowing that as each passed, that I would not experience it again.
For those fleeting thoughts, I do not mind that she still is not walking. That she is still my little baby. Needs me to carry her. Relies on me for her sippy cups of milk, her Cheerios, and her baths.
After her bath, I was picking up her room. I have been doing a lot of purging (Marie Kondo-inspired) and noticed several toys that fell into the “baby” category. Much too young for her interest and skill level. There were six soft blocks, darling in their design and stored in a cloth bag. The blocks had been passed from baby to baby, as they used their earliest motor skills to stack, or at least, knock them over. But now she uses much smaller wooden blocks to make her towers.
And so, now what? Do I put the blocks in a donate pile, or keep them for possible future grandchildren? But staring at them, I knew that her time with the blocks was over. Not a little baby anymore.
I put on her favorite playlist, a compilation from Amazon called “Relax, Baby.” The first song to come on was a lullaby version of “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri.
I will be brave
I will not let anything take away
What’s standing in front of me
Every hour has come to this