My son Sunny had his second birthday last week, the first of my children’s 2-year-old birthdays that didn’t see me pregnant or toting a newborn. I wanted to cry, sticking that #2 candle on his cake. Sunny’s small for his age, all loose blond curls and chiclet grin. His head still smells like a baby if you catch the right spot at the right time. I still dress him in one-piece sweater jammies.
And yet he’s 2. He can talk now; beyond the usual “Mama” and “Dada,” he’ll say almost whatever you ask him to, or whatever he needs:
“Scooby Doo. Poop. Stuck, Mama, stuck. Up.”
By this time, when my older sons said “Up,” I often said no or not now. I always, always say yes to Baby Sunny. He is always picked up and toted, sometimes while I cook breakfast with the other hand. But always up.
He is never left to cry, unless he wants to; as a newfound 2-year-old, he’s started screaming alone when his toddler demands aren’t met immediately when I don’t hop to and take the toy from his brother or let him mash the buttons on the remote. Otherwise, he’s cuddled, picked up, soothed, and petted — tears smoothed away.
When my older sons were 2, they had long left the night nursing behind. You see when I was pregnant, I couldn’t stand to sleep with anyone touching me so night nursing stressed me out. This meant the older two, at about 15 months, were shunted off to Daddy at night.
Not Baby Sunny.
There’s been no reason to stop nursing him down, no reason to kick him out of bed. I wear pajamas I can pull up or down. Inevitably at some point in the night, Sunny squawks for me; I roll over from my husband to my baby to nurse him. I awake next to him, shirt up, arm beneath him, breathing synced.
I promised myself when he was born that I would hold onto every minute of babyhood. I spent hours nursing him in bed — refusing to be disturbed. I wrapped him up, co-slept, and never put him down. I sniffed his divine newborn smell as much as I could. His brothers were smitten, and he smiled so much we nicknamed him Sunny. He was as perfect as a baby could be.
All of this is to say that it’s hard — this line between growing and not-growing, between baby and not-baby. Sure, you want your children to grow up; you want them to talk about Star Wars and play baseball and read chapter books. And bigger is easier, in a way; you can sleep in while they feed themselves and turn on the TV. They can play alone, weave secret, intricate stories of their own. They’re still an ephemeral preciousness, whatever their age.
But babies … there’s something special about a baby; something primal that has to do with milk and cuddles and uppies. We don’t baby Sunny on purpose. It’s just sort of happened since no other baby has come to take his place. When he was born, I made my husband promise he wouldn’t be the last. And he won’t. But even as we plan for a new baby, we baby the closest one we have. Call it a primal need to have a baby in the house.
And as much as I want to keep him a baby forever, we’ve learned to adjust — giving him room to grow. When we’re out running errands and he’s wrapped on my back and he shouts, “Walk, walk!” — I give in and stick him in the cart instead of against my body. We talk and chatter at one another, and that almost makes up for it — his running baby commentary makes me laugh.
We leave him with babysitters now; he cries as I walk out the door, then stops and goes back to whatever he’s doing. I left him for eight hours once, and my breasts ached; I couldn’t wait to get back to him. When we leave the kids at night to go out to the movies or a play, the older two will go to sleep for someone else, for Nana or Uncle Michael. But not Baby Sunny. He’s always awake, waiting up for Mama to put him to sleep. Sleep means Mama, and sleep means nursing in a dark room, noise machine running, cuddled under blankets.
Sure, Sunny’s starting to make his own decisions now. He prefers to watch Scooby Doo over The Magic School Bus, and chooses his cereal every morning — usually Rice Krispies. He’ll eventually grow up to yell back at his brothers and run as fast as they do. We know this.
But for today, my 2-year-old is still Baby Sunny, running in to say, “Huggie, Mama,” and then, into my hair, “Happy.”
So am I, Baby. So am I.More On