"Mom," my daughter says. "I need to sleep in a big girl bed now!" She says it in a tone that could easily imply a "for chrissakes" at the end. She says it as if she has told me this a thousand times before. And the thing is: she has, but I've blocked it out.
The transition out of the crib has been gradual, but now that it’s here it feels like it happened so fast it took my breath away. She is growing up.
Tomorrow, she turns three. She doesn't know that for her gift, we are breaking down the crib and assembling a big girl bed—currently just a large box of parts hidden in our garage. Tonight is her last night in the crib.
"Are there any bat-rays in my room?" she asks now as I'm dimming the lights.
"No," I say gently. "No bat-rays."
Our bedtime conversations are some of my favorite moments of parenthood—it's insight into my daughter's mind. "Are there any people in my room who will put asparagus on my face?" "What?" I ask. "Has anyone ever done that to you?" "Do crabs eat peanut butter?" she asks me, ignoring my asparagus query.
We've been through the whole routine by now: she has already arranged all of her stuffed animals just so. There have been some promotions and demotions in the last few months. Meow-cat is out, tossed from the crib, and the doll she calls "She" is in. I don't follow the politics of it, but I know Pele the Penguin is always safe from all cuts, and so is "Curly-Haired Doll."
And now, my favorite part: I lay down on the floor and, per her request a few weeks ago, I hold her hand through the crib bars until she falls asleep.
I stare at her airy light blue walls, painted years before her conception in a sort of "if you build it, she will come" type of magical thinking. It took round after round of in vitro fertilization, 99 eggs, and dozens of shots to create this almost three year old.
"Mom. Mommy!" my daughter whispers now, bringing me back to the present. "How do I have good dreams?" she asks me, a familiar question during this routine. "You close your eyes and think about things you like." "Mmmm," she says, squinting her eyes shut. "Celery." The room is quiet. I hold my breath in hopes she is actually, finally, on her way to sleep.
As I hold her hand through the crib bars, I can feel there are no dimples of pudge anymore; they are not the hands of a baby, they are the hands of a child. Her fingers are thinner, bones of knuckles now protruding like little mountain ranges." Penny sleeps in a big girl bed," she says now, startling me. I had thought she was finally asleep. "And Kayla poops in the potty. And she also sleeps in a big girl bed, Mom." I nod. I don't say anything. She has built her case. She is on the cusp—straddling babyhood and girlhood—trying to figure out which best identifies her.
I have started crying all the time: I cry at iPhone commercials, I cry because the toilet paper roll ran out.
I know: if this is how I'm reacting to her turning three and moving into a big girl bed, I'll probably have to be hospitalized when she goes off to college. But it's not about the crib: it's about the lack of control we have over our children, their world. It's about being a hostage to fate when you love someone this much. It's about being faced with my own mortality, about the confusing senses of luck that we have her, and loss that it's all going by so fast—I've blinked and three years of memories blur into each other, an odd dream sequence of sorts. Did all of that really happen? When did she learn to walk? I watch our home videos less to reminisce and more to remind: "Oh yeah, she used to sing to the dog!" "Her first word WAS her own name!"
She's growing up, pulling away. "Slow down!" I have to shout when she rides her scooter too far ahead of me. "I don't need help. I can do it myself!" is her mantra lately. And we rejoice, we love her independence, always have, since the day she was born.
Her life lately feels like fast motion photography of a bud blooming into the most beautiful flower, saturated with rich colors, deep violets and magentas. She doesn't walk, she twirls. She is lit from within, giant soulful eyes that make me blush a little when she gives me her full attention. I couldn't love a human being more.
It's tempting to try to have another child. It's probably why so many people do around this time: about to disassemble the crib, fully past the baby stages (something I always assumed I would look forward to) and then the amnesia sets in: that first year and a half wasn't that bad, was it? Couples jump right back in, starting again at the very beginning. Contractions, colic, teething. The cycle continues. Beginnings are scary, but endings are scarier.
Sometimes, when my daughter hugs me, she says, "Oh Mom. I just want to keep you." I always hug her tighter when she says this, though it's a concerted effort not to squeeze her too hard, suffocate her accidentally. "I want to keep you, too," I say. You have no idea.