One of the things I miss the most about my pre-kids life is spontaneity. These days, we certainly don't wake up on a Saturday morning and decide that we'll drive up to LA and maybe even stay the night. But also gone are the days of looking at each other at 5 p.m. and deciding that we'll shelve our dinner plans and go out for dinner instead. I can see that this latter, more modest type of spontaneity might return before our kids are in college- already, Pumpkin would be game for such a change most days. Petunia is overall less dependent on routine than Pumpkin is. In fact, her refusal to settle into a night time routine is driving me a bit batty. But she is not yet old enough to handle a surprise dinner out all that well. We can plan a dinner out, but it requires careful thought about timing, and whether or not we should change her into her pajamas before the drive home, and it is best if we don't mind if the disruption to the bedtime routine spills over into the next morning.
I was thinking about all of this at about 4:45 yesterday, when Petunia's insistence on taking all of her sister's crayons and markers out of their storage bin unearthed a crayon from a long ago trip to Olive Garden, thereby triggering an irrational craving for their Zuppa Toscana. (So I guess the effort they go to put their brand on those crayons is worth the effort, after all.) Back before Pumpkin was born, that craving would probably have been acted upon. Yesterday, it was not. But it occurred to me that in another year or two, it probably could be.
Because, of course, Petunia is getting older, and soon will be as happy as her sister to hear us announce that we're going out for dinner. I call her my baby, but she's not really a baby anymore. She is a toddler, and one who can communicate fairly well, albeit mostly through signs. (I did notice this weekend that she definitely has distinct sounds for ball ("bah") and book ("buh"), but mostly we only figure out what she wants if she has a sign for it or can point to it.) She is still quite snuggly, but more and more, she wriggles out of my arms to toddle off exploring- or merely to do laps around the house.
I am surprised to find that I have mixed feelings about all of this. In general, I've found that parenting gets more enjoyable as the child ages, and although Pumpkin's current tantrum-heavy interpretation of three-and-a-half may challenge that opinion, I think it will hold. But there is something about the realization that before too long, there will no longer be a sweet little baby's head for me to absent-mindedly kiss that makes me a little sad. Sure, I'm looking forward to having a full night's sleep once Petunia decides she no longer needs to check in with me in the middle of the night. But I'm also aware of the fact that something will be lost then, too, even if I can't quite put my finger on what it is.
I think part of this feeling comes from the realization that my sense of my own identity is going to change yet again. It took me almost a year after Pumpkin was born to really get comfortable in my new identity as mother, and quite a few months after Petunia was born to feel at home as a mother of two. I guess I thought that was it, and that things would be stable. But I'm realizing that something fundamental will change as my youngest child turns from baby to little girl, and I was not at all prepared for how unsettling that is. Selective amnesia about the disorientation brought on by the profound sleep deprivation of the newborn phase, the difficulty of cleaning up after a poopsplosion, and exactly how challenging pumping is may help ensure that parents will have more than one child, but it also means that while I have lived through those phases, I can no longer claim membership in the club of parents who really know what they feel like. I'm moving into a new club. Already, I have found myself posting a comment saying that handling Pumpkin's issues with the budding bully at day care is the hardest thing I've ever done as a parent. I do think that, but I also clearly remember thinking that nothing would ever be harder than handling the sleep deprivation of babyhood.*
Maybe what is unsettling is the fact that it is clear that this transition- from mother of a baby to mother whose last baby isn't a baby anymore- is far from the last that I'll navigate. We rightly focus on the developmental transitions in our children, but forget that they are often accompanied by fairly large changes in ourselves. For years, my sense of who I was hardly changed, and now, in the last few years, it seems I'm never really comfortable in my skin- as soon as I get used to one change, another looms on the horizon. Maybe that is at least partially responsible for the unmoored feeling I have as I contemplate the upcoming end of Petunia's babyhood. Or maybe I'm just going to miss having a sweet little baby's head to kiss.
*I still think that the sleep deprivation was the hardest thing physically, in the way that it impacted every other thing in my life. But handling the bully issue was harder from a pure parenting aspect- at least with the sleep deprivation issue I had an idea of what to do (soldier on and suffer through). With the bully issue, I had no idea what to do.