There will come a time, sometime between your toddler’s 2nd and 3rd birthday, when you will encounter an infant. It may be a new addition to your family, a new niece or nephew, or even a friend’s child. But whatever the connection to you, holding an infant will provide the direct comparison that will suddenly make clear something you’ve maybe given passing thought to, but never really noticed: your baby is no longer a baby.
You start thinking beyond the startling physical differences between an infant and a toddler. You realize that so many of the early lessons you spent the first two years working on have taken hold. She eats with a fork and a spoon, says please and thank you, knows how to go on the potty (but chooses not to), knows how to dress herself (but chooses not to), walks, runs – sits cross-legged on the floor!
She has opinions. Despite your best efforts and a wardrobe full of blue and purple, she loves the color pink; and even though you tried to push Backyardigans (because you like the songs) she only wants to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. She loves playing in her kitchen but also loves playing with her trains and reading her favorite book about transportation.
Yes, she stills throws tantrums like a pro at least once a day, but despite this she is amazingly capable of communicating her wants and needs. You can have conversations. She has thoughts on certain things; remembers and recounts events from months ago; is not afraid to say, “I don’t know” or “why?” or “what’s that?”
On a long car trip you’ll think she’s fallen asleep but when you look back you’ll see she’s just staring thoughtfully out the window – has been for almost an hour. And when you ask her what she’s thinking about she’ll just smile. Because even though only a few months earlier she would dissolve into tears when you couldn’t read her mind and she couldn’t find the words, now the realization that her thoughts are hers alone is a delightful discovery – something she can hold onto in a time when she is almost constantly being told to “share”.
And one night you’ll be keeping her company as she falls asleep. You’ll be sitting uncomfortably on the floor, resting your head on the mattress next to her. And as you look at her face from this angle, you’ll notice that in this lighting, her features softened by the dim light and the shadow of the pillow giving definition to her normally round cheek, you imagine you can almost see the teenager she will become.
And your heart will just ache with the fullness of it all. Because there will come a time when she will go to school, will go for a bike ride with friends, ride a plane to visit grandma without you. There will come a time when she will learn to drive, stay up all night finishing a paper, fall in love, have her heart broken. Your heart will be filled with all these things, with hopes and with love, and with the amazing realization that in less than 3 years she has become this person and will continue to grow and change in the years to come. But you’ll also be in awe of the fact that, when you think back to that first moment or those first few days, that she was always herself - that you saw this little spark of self from the very beginning.
And you’ll feel so very lucky.