When Did My Baby Outgrow the Baby Playground?

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I had to have girl time with my daughter no matter what. Just the two of us without the boys. It was an urge that hit yesterday while I was at the office, and it nearly overwhelmed me. I imagined it was the way an addict must feel, and I’m not totally sure what triggered it. It was Monday, so perhaps I was still mourning the end of my weekend, a time when I am as immersed in my kids’ lives physically as I am mentally (because, of course, the mental pull never leaves me, no matter where I am).

When it was time to leave work, I raced to the train. Perhaps sensing that my desperation went beyond the normal panic to get to daycare and after-school care before the late fees kick in and the caregivers turn hostile, the subway gods aligned and zipped me back to Brooklyn in a record 30 minutes. That absolutely never happens ever. Normally I’m pacing the platform in Times Square wondering how the hell I’m going to do it. I scooped up my daughter from daycare (my husband agreed to pick up the big kid), said to hell with our normally air-tight evening schedule, and hit the playground.

And you guys, it was the most amazing time ever. My spirits lifted and I just felt insanely happy on this random, sunny Monday.

My daughter wandered around, baggie of goldfish crackers in hand, curls puffed up in a cloud, exploring her surroundings. We chilled on the swings for a bit, and then walked back home (on her command), dropped off the stroller (also on her command), and walked back to the playground. After circling its periphery — twice, so she could crunch mulch piled up alongside a fence with her purple tennis shoes — she headed into the gated off baby section of the playground…and hightailed it to the mini jungle gym.

As she was climbing up the step to the slide (an anthill, really), I caught a few parents giving us sidelong looks. Then my little girl grabbed the bar above the slide, bunched her knees up, and started swinging back and forth, laughing hysterically before finally launching herself down the mini incline. A dad next to us said, “Whoa!” and pulled his son away from her.

I glanced around and suddenly it hit me: My baby was twice the size of the other kids there. She was walking — no running — while they were crawling and tottering around. At 21-months-old, she is still a baby in my mind, but in fact she is a toddler. There is no place for her on the baby playground anymore. And here’s the thing: She had already moved on, even though I didn’t want to see it.

She’s probably my last baby and  I find myself clinging to the past more with her than I did with my older child; I’m no longer anxious for the milestones to pass. I wish I could make every precious moment last twice as long. I celebrate her achievements while my heart breaks a little with each one; as a second-time mom, I know too well how quickly it all flies by, and I hate that there’s nothing I can do to slow it down.

So, I lingered where we no longer belonged for a few more minutes. I let my girl hurtle herself down the baby slide a few more times while chatting up a mom I knew (who was also nervously steering her kid away from mine) before I finally ushered my daughter to the big kid jungle gym. The one my 5-year-old plays on with his friends. I could have stayed where we were, sure, but then I would have been that asshole mom with the too big kid in the mini playground making all the other parents uncomfortable. No thanks.

As I watched my little girl giggling her way down the big slides, the ones with the twists and turns and slick surfaces, I wistfully looked over at the baby playground and all the minis that were still mini enough to be there. I felt the dull ache of loss. The loss of my baby’s babyhood. The loss I’ve been raging against since she abandoned breastfeeding seven months ago. The loss I could no longer deny.

The ache didn’t last long though. I wouldn’t let it. Instead, I let the gratitude that I was feeling about getting this special time with my girl wash over me. The gratitude I feel for being a mom. The gratitude I feel for being her mom, as well as her brother’s mom. It was a sparkling, sunny day and we were in a neighborhood — a place — that we both absolutely love. We were thrilled to be together. So I had to let a tiny, very tiny sliver of something go. There is still so much to look forward to ahead.

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