Birthdays Are Bittersweet Celebrations for Moms

My daughter comes into our room every morning, thumb in mouth, blanket in tow. It's a habit I know she has to quit (sooner rather than later), but as someone who sucked their thumb until the age of 12, I am hardly the one to take the reigns on that particular life lesson. Also, it's one of the last vestiges of her waning babyhood.

“You are a 4-year-old with 6-year-old hair,” her pediatrician joked the other day to my daughter. And her words, while funny and sweet, made me want to cry. Today (January 25) my daughter turns 5 and soon enough, she will be 6.

The few glimpses I've seen of 5 seem to show a better age, a more mature age, maybe even a sweeter age. But I miss my baby. I guess I always will a little. Why are birthdays always so hard?

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After a week spent touring seven kindergartens, both private and public (our city has a choice program, which is both amazing and really overwhelming), I have come to the conclusion that my daughter is really going to do this thing. And by "this thing," I mean growing up.

This year, my daughter reaches the last year she can wear her "birthday hat." It's a silly little cone-shaped piece of felt with giant puff balls around the bottom and a glitter number on the front. We started with one, went to two, and so on. Five was the last number in the box, and four years ago, it seemed so far away.

It's not that I would ever want the alternative (God forbid), but there is a certain amount of denial and inexperience parents of children under 3 go through. They are babies. They have always been babies. Why would they ever NOT be babies?

Everyone tells us "it will go fast," but you never believe it until it happens. Those moments sometimes pass so slowly. The 3 a.m. feedings feel like they drag on for months until one day you wake up and you haven't had one in two years and your children are playing on the playground while you read on a park bench and they have their own friends and interests and suddenly you realize your babies are growing up.

This always happens around the birthdays. It's like the rest of the year, I manage to ignore the fact that my kids are getting bigger and growing and changing from the babies they were even earlier each day. But then the birthday approaches and it hits me that soon, I will never hold my 4-year-old daughter again.

As much as I love parenting, this is one of the saddest parts. The daughter I know and adore today isn't the daughter I will feel the same way about next year. My feelings won't change, but SHE will, and since I love everything about her RIGHT NOW, it stands to reason that I will (and do) miss every other stage.

There are times I feel I am missing everything even as I am standing right there in the room, watching her, playing with her, and cuddling her. There are times I don't want to send her to school because I just want to have a few more hours enjoying her at 4 (or 3 or 2 or ...). It's like a series of small heartbreaks every single day sometimes. If I didn't make myself immune to it, I would spend all day crying, and who wants a blubbering mess for a mom?

So I put it in the back of my head and I carry on, forgetting (and denying) that every day that passes is a day I can't get back. But then, every year in January and August (my son's month), I am hit with it again.

Where are my babies going? Truth be told, I can't wait to have older kids. I think I will be a better mom to older children who can talk and reason and joke around. But I will miss my babies forever. If only we could have them all at once. Our spunky 5-year-old could help take care of her crawling self and our ornery 3.5-year-old boy could lead the hands of his 16-month-old self as he learns to walk.

Unfortunately, we can't. So every age that passes, we wave goodbye as it stands stationary behind us and yet another year-long cruise around the sun leaves the dock. It will be a good trip back around the sun with my big girl and I will again forget how it feels. But next year we will come back to shore for that brief period of time and I will again remember that my time is finite and limited, so I need to enjoy it even more. And I will again be sad. It's all going so quickly.

Do you ever get sad at birthdays?


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