Will my baby always be my baby?

A mother struggles with the idea of releasing her child into the world
By Tonilyn Hornung  Published on 01/16/2019 at 10:33 AM EDT
There's a special bond between a mother and her 'baby' Rawpixel

“Mom, will I always be your baby?”

My 5-year-old dangles from my waist as he poses his serious question. I can barely hold him up. His body is that of a sturdy little boy—a long way away from the baby I cautiously carried. All of that advice from family members and strangers on elevators was right: The time from baby to kid has passed in the blink of an eye. Staring at my now kindergartener I wonder, “Will he always be my baby?”

When my baby and I were in the hospital not sleeping and crying, my mind was a mess. It’s hard to remember much from those days due to the not sleeping and crying, but I can recall some of our early moments: how light he felt, how in love I was, and how I knew one day he’d grow up. I tried to picture him as a toddler or as a school-age kid with a new lunchbox. All I could see was my little baby.  

I know how our story ends: Jackie no longer visits Puff in the Land of Honalee, and Wendy moves out of the nursery. This image of my son maturing felt so distant and yet so immediate that my heart was ready to split open. As foolish as I felt, I sat in the hospital crying because my baby was going to grow up and grow away.

I had just gained so much in this tiny new soul that joined our family. The feeling of him one day leaving my arms was too horrible to bear. It was hard enough coming to grips with giving him up to the world. The pain of releasing that baby from the safety of my body into the human race was like nothing I’d ever experienced. He was no longer an intimate, safe part of me, and I felt like every step I took from now on would be away from him.

I began to take great solace in believing my little guy would always be my baby—if not physically, then emotionally maybe. Perhaps this strong mother-and-baby bond would always be there should we go looking for it? If he were always my baby, he’d always feel close. He’d always be a part of me. I assured myself there must be some truth to this cliché. Now, I’m not so sure.

Looking down at this big kid who has taken my little baby’s place, it feels like ages since I’ve held that fragile newborn. We’ve experienced lots of changes: motor skill changes, teething changes, and countless diaper changes. Through all the shifts thus far, my little guy has reached for my hand, and I’ve been right there to give it. How can it be that in a heartbeat he has morphed into this independent kid who requires less and less babying? In fact, I’m hearing him say, “Mom, I can do it myself,” more and more. My son is definitely growing up.

If he were always my baby, he’d always feel close. He’d always be a part of me. I assured myself there must be some truth to this cliché. Now, I’m not so sure.

Maybe my little boy hasn’t been my little baby since he left my body. My kid will become my grade-schooler, my teenager, and my college kid. None of that sounds “babyish.” I want to give him the space to be all those things and not just label him “my baby.” Looking at his 5-year-old face, I may not be able to see his adult face in there, but I can clearly see his baby face. The love that greeted me in the hospital that day hasn’t shifted, but my role as a mother certainly has—and will continue to.

What makes my son “my baby” is our connection. It is an anchor that grounds me to him. Since that first day in the hospital, I’ve never wanted to stop holding my child in my heart. Over the coming years our relationship will alter and my son’s love for me will change as he does. Just like Wendy Darling, he will leave the nursery. Our relationship will grow up. Puff will be left to slip back into his cave alone. But did Puff love Jackie any less simply because he was alone? The connection I have to my child is a part of me because he was. I love our bond the same way I love him—and I cherish it. I love my little baby boy, and I always will.

“Mom, will I always be your baby?”

“Yes. Yes, you will always be my baby,” I whisper just as I did the day I met him.

As I pick up my gangly kindergartener, his legs wrap around my waist. A giggle fest ensues as his arms tighten around my neck. I shower him with kisses, and I’ll continue to do so as long as my baby will let me.

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