In years gone by I can remember looking at large families and thinking what a charmed life their youngest lived. As second youngest of five children, I used to envy them, as those youngest children always seemed much loved by all their family, and spoiled!
As I grew older and had children myself I continued to be aware of parents around me who treated their youngest differently. They were breast fed for longer. There was no rush to get rid of the bottle or soother, and fathers carried these little ones around, long past a time when they needed carrying. I could never understand it. Why baby a child? It seemed so selfish to try to stop their baby growing up.
And then I had my final child.
Even when pregnant I knew this was to be my last pregnancy. The final time I would deliver a baby. The last time I would feed and hold a tiny newborn baby close. The last time I would be the much needed mother of a young child.
What a joy that final child has been, not just for myself but for the whole family. When she was a baby she was always in someones arms. When I fed her in the evening my husband would come into the sitting room and offer to put her up to bed. I would look at her snuggled up, sound asleep in my arms, her little head resting on my shoulder, her breath on my neck, and I would decline, saying I’d hold onto her a short while longer.
The years have flown past and now that small baby is twelve, and I am still holding onto her a little longer.
She is tall, and getting taller every day. She has begun to join in the group sharing of clothes with her older sisters. She has a mobile phone and is beginning to spend time in her room. She can regularly be found sitting chatting with her siblings. Her much loved toys are lying in her room, rarely touched, and probably hardest of all is the fact that in the last short while we are no longer asked to read a story at night. Gone are the days when she sat in my lap and told me all the news, when I had to run to watch the “I love you” song in Barney, when I carried her half asleep to bed. Gone are the days when she was my constant companion, chattering non stop as I went about my daily life, always happy, and always with me.
Sometimes I look at her from a distance and I am taken aback. I hear her mature conversation and I watch her as she walks confidently, flicking her hair as she goes. There are moments when I see her as if for the first time in months and I wonder, “Where has my baby gone?”.
I can see she is happy, and enjoying her life as an older child. I have had three other children, so I know this is the way it is meant to be. We gave her life, and now it is time to allow her to live it. To spread her wings, even if it is only to travel short distances.
However as I see those once adored teddies, lying forgotten by her bed, I cannot help but remember, those wonderful days we spent together. Hand in hand. A small girl and her mum.
And I accept it, I do need my baby a lot more than she needs me.