My baby is turning 3.
Those of you who are mothers will completely understand the wellspring of emotion that arises from this occasion.
My children's birthdays are always an emotional time for me. The years seem to fly by so quickly. One moment, they are babes in my arms and the next, they are off to school.
This birthday is worse, because this child is my last.
You would think after four, I would be thrilled to reach this milestone. No more sleepless nights. No more dirty diapers.
Part of me is thrilled. Life is much more stable. The family is more mobile. We can do more fun things together.
But there is another side of me that aches.
Wistful: When I see a pregnant woman, I realize I will never again have a little life inside me. I will never again listen to a fast little heartbeat or feel little arms and legs kicking.
When I see a small baby, I know I will never again feel the closeness of breast-feeding or experience the quietness of middle-of-the-night rockings, listening to every breath.
There will be no more first words or first steps. No more bottles and soon, no more diapers.
I couldn't wait for my other children to become potty-trained. I am slowing easing into the phase with David. He may be ready, but I am not.
After diapers, he won't need me to kiss his boo-boos.
Then comes no more free hugs and kisses.
Twelve years of free hugs and kisses, and I am approaching a stage where I will be denied the privilege.
The thought is unbearable.
Kites in the wind: Add to that, no more nap-time ticklings; no more "This little piggy..."; no more nightlights or scooting monsters out from under the bed.
"Children are like kites," somebody once wrote. "You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground."
From the moment they are born, the pulling away starts.
They begin inside you. You are a part of their every heartbeat and movement.
Once they come out, they are very close. They need you for everything.
When they are awake, they are rarely more than a few feet away and never out of eyesight.
Then, they start crawling, then walking, then running.
"You run with them until you're both breathless.
"They crash. You add a longer tail.
"They hit the rooftop. You pluck them out of the spout."
All the while they are moving farther and farther away from where they began -- with you.
The years at home are precious and few.
All too soon, it is time for preschool, then kindergarten.
Their world becomes expanded. No longer is Mommy the source for all information or the playmate for fun.
Their thoughts are infiltrated by "other children's" ideas. Their delicate feelings are hurt by "other people's" mean children.
"You patch and comfort, adjust and teach."
Little by little, they learn to deal with the world themselves.
Friends become their confidants. Activities take up their time.
"You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they'll fly!"
You are so proud of who they are becoming, yet so sad to say goodbye to the sweet innocence of who they were.
"Finally, they are airborne, but they need more string and you keep letting it out, and with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy because the kite becomes more distant."
In one of life's greatest oddities, you know you have been a good parent when they don't need you anymore.
"And somehow you know that it won't be long before that beautiful creature will snap the life line that bound you together and soar as it was meant to soar -- free and alone."