So my Lila absolutely HATES getting her hair combed. Like, “you need to inform me at least a week in advance of your plans to torture me by washing / detangling / twisting my hair so I can cry it out” hates. And of late, she’s taken to combing and styling her own hair to avoid my touching it.
Um, she’s 7.
I didn’t style my own hair until I was about 12, and believe me, it was a trial by fire. My mom was in the hospital for weeks with a really bad back injury, and so I had to fend for myself. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty (the hair or my styling efforts). It got even uglier when my Dad decided to put a jherri curl in my hair -- you know, to help me out. Right.
Anyway, it amazes me that my baby girl is so willing -- and able -- to fend for herself. Besides being able to style her own hair, she can pick out her own clothes and get herself dressed in the morning. She can get her own after-school snacks. She hasn’t a problem getting her homework done without an adult standing around, peering over her shoulder. When we take her to a restaurant, she can read her own menu and order her own chicken fingers and fries with a side of barbeque sauce, with a “please” and a “thank you.” It’s downright impressive.
And, for her mother, a little sad. Because while I’m happy my baby girl can hold her own, she’s still my baby, which means that I’m well on my way to not having any babies anymore. I mean, I willed this kind of independence from Mazi, because he was a boy and boys don’t get to be babies for long. That’s cold, but reality. And Mari, well, because she was my first birth child and living with us (Mazi lived with his mom but enjoyed monthly visits with us), I babied her a long time, simply because I didn’t really know just how much her independence was growing until we’d literally stumble on it -- like, oh, wait, you can brush your teeth on your own? And cut your own meat? And put your own laundry away?!
But with Lila, every strike she makes toward being a big girl makes it more plain that she’s growing up, and my days of being the hands-on mom who runs bath water and picks out school clothes and kisses skinned knees are numbered. It’s feeling a lot like the last time I heard Lila’s heartbeat on the doctor’s monitor, and the last time I felt her kicking in my belly, and the last time I changed her diaper. (Um, real talk? I don’t miss the diapers!) I thought my heart was going to break into a zillion pieces the day she turned her little head away from my breast, refusing to feed from my body.
Her styling her own hair in the mirror, just like a big girl, with bobby pins and a cloth hair band -- and actually doing a good job of it -- kinda felt like that day. A sad little mom milestone that no one understands until they’re going through it themselves. We try not to give voice to the sadness behind those milestones because, well, our kids are supposed to grow up and do it all on their own. Each one of their strikes toward independence is proof that we’ve done our jobs as moms, right? Anything beyond applause for their new-found independence is considered smothering.
And nobody wants to be that mom.
Still, Lila is the last child I’ll ever have -- my baby. And sometimes, at night, she has no problem playing the role. She’ll climb into my bed and into my lap and lay her (not so) little head on my chest and, her long legs and feet and toes dangling way past my lap, my youngest daughter -- my last child -- will fall asleep in my arms.
It is in those quiet moments I’m glad she’s okay with ditching the Little Miss Independent role and embracing her place in my motherhood saga.
That she understands she’s still my baby.
And always will be.