Before I was prepared for it, my baby had morphed into a toddler.
The baby will turn one next week, and she is desperate to walk. She watches her older sister running on the beach or in our street with the big kids, and her longing to join in is so palpable I can almost see it rising from the top of her little blond head like puffs of steam. She pulls herself up and stands helplessly, as whatever she wanted to take herself towards has already been spirited away by the whirlwind that is the three-year-old. She squawks impotently at the injustice of it all, and my heart aches for her.
But secretly, I feel like I’ve been given a reprieve. Not just from the toddler bumps and scrapes that are all to come, but from the grieving that comes with saying goodbye to the baby days—the goodbye that, the moment they learn to walk, is inevitable and expedited.
Of course we all instinctually value and praise progress, and so it should be.
She rolled over! She’s sitting up! She said, “Mama!” But while we’re lurching from one milestone to the next, the reality is that time is just flying by far too fast.
My eldest did everything in a hurry. She didn’t bother to learn to crawl and instead at 10 months and one day got up and began to run—which she hasn’t stopped doing since.
The challenges of having an early walker are all the ones you would expect—ability before sensibility, the crashes, bumps to the head, face plants, and the clear and present danger posed by the tiniest of steps or rises. But the thing you don’t expect is to feel cheated. Before I was prepared for it, my baby had morphed into a toddler. She had lengthened out and lost her delicious baby thighs. She stood tall, she took herself to where she needed to go, and suddenly, I felt a sad and unexpected sense of the obsolete. And, I wasn’t ready.
Now with my littlest—and last—I feel like I’ve been given an unexpected gift.
When they’re not yet walking they just look littler somehow, they are more dependent—the passage of time is that much less obvious. And so it’s been that I’ve had a few extra months of “baby.”
I wonder if a baby’s walking style is a sign of the personality they will one day embody. It certainly seems to ring true for my eldest. She is immensely physical and terrifyingly brave. She jumps and asks questions later—both metaphorically and otherwise. She is a firecracker of will and energy, she bubbles with enthusiasm, she brings the joy, and she has pushed me to the very edge of my limits and beyond.
In contrast, it would seem as though the littlest is shaping up to be the more sensible, sensitive one—the introspective soul. She crawls around daintily and reverses herself towards the stairs, taking them one at a time and never too quickly. She sits for long periods and watches.
She picks up tiny objects with her nimble little fingers and examines them before holding them up for my approval.
Her desire to join in with her sister seems tempered only by her aversion to the unknown. I get the sense she will walk in her own good time, and only then when she has weighed up the risks and rewards.
I wonder if I will ever stop marvelling at how different my first and second children are from one another. How could this be, with identical genes and upbringings? But they doggedly continue to assert their own personalities, and I wouldn’t want them any other way.
As Ruby’s first birthday and her inevitable toddlerhood hurtle towards me, I’m taking in every last, golden moment of “baby,” grateful that it’s lasted this long.