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Ready For Baby

“So…are you ready?” It’s one of the most common questions I get lately, as I head into my final weeks. Mostly this question is accompanied by a knowing smirk, or a sympathetic smile. As a second-time mom, people assume I know what I’m getting into, so it’s not the perky, isn’t-it-all-so-exciting kind of query. It’s a sighing, head-shaking, “just wait” kind of question.

But someone recently asked me a different question: “Are you ready for a baby?” And I looked at her, utterly confused, because I already had one.  See? There she was, riding in my shopping catr, munching on an apple. My reaction must have shown in my face, because the asker gestured to E and said “You know, because you haven’t had one around in a while.”

In a while? Last time I checked, there was a baby in my house just this morning, like there has been every day for more than 2 years. The question was supposed to be was I ready for another baby. Not just a baby. I’ve got one of those.

Or do I? E, it seems, officially comes across as a big kid (at least to strangers in the grocery store.) And if I’m really thinking about it, my baby does a whole lot more big kid stuff than anything else these days. She still sleeps in a crib, but she’s worn big-girl underwear for more than a week. She uses the potty on her own and requests “privacy” while she’s in there. E eats pizza, puts her own dishes in the sink, and reads Elmo bedtime stories. She says things like “I had a great time today” and “I’ll be there in a minute, I’m busy right now.”

Tonight I watched her race down the sidewalks of our neighborhood in a penguin costume she chose herself, shouting “Trick or Treat!” She’s too short to reach the doorbells, but old enough to say “thank you” when someone puts candy in her bag. She goes to school every day, she can count to fifteen, she’s ready for her first haircut. I guess the truth is written all over her chocolate-smeared face. She’s not a baby anymore.

I used to think my mom was weird for referring my brothers and I as her “babies”, when currently, one of those babies is a public defender, one is a Navy officer who operates nuclear submarines, and one of them is (less impressive) me. Is it possible that even when your baby has been a big kid for at least a couple of decades, they can still be babies in their mother’s eyes? For the first time, I’m learning that the answer to that question is yes.

Am I ready for a baby, now that I’ve (sort of) accepted that my first baby is really a big kid? Yes—and no. The infant stages were, for me, some of the hardest. I was overjoyed the day E could walk, and eat real people food, and tell me where it hurt. I’ve forgotten what it was like to have a baby that was so tiny that she couldn’t roll over or hold her own head up. Those endless days of bouncing and rocking and cooing are exhausting. E still needs me just as much, but in very different ways.

The older E gets, the easier it is to take her of her physical needs, but the harder it gets to navigate her emotional and developmental ones. It’s pretty easy to master diapering, feeding, rocking to sleep. The big kid stuff—independence, self-esteem, education—are a lot more difficult. I’m looking forward to another blank slate, another opportunity to get things right. To do “Mom” better. And secretly, I’m looking forward to a smaller margin of error for making mistakes, at least for a little while.

Most days, I’m ready for a baby. I think I’m ready to do it all again. I hope I’ve learned something from my mistakes, and also from my successes. Other days, I’m overwhelmed by the task that lies before me again. Maybe my so far amazing parenting experience—and my energetic, curious, adorable toddler—is just beginner’s luck. Either way, I do know this: #2 will be my baby. And E will be my baby, too—probably (if I’m lucky enough to live that long) well past she’s eligible for AARP. I get it, Mom. I promise not to roll my eyes next time you call any of us “babies.” Because I finally understand what you mean.