My two-year-old just waved me off. We were in the living room watching Curious George. As usual, he roamed the floor, grabbing this toy and that while catching sight of his favorite monkey out of the corner of his eye. “Do you want to sit with Mommy?” I asked from the couch. Instead of rushing for my lap, he shook his head and waved “bye bye.”
This is the child who, up until fairly recently, didn’t want me to leave the room without him. To be fair, he’s still that attached sometimes, especially when he’s exhausted or breaking teeth. But over the past few weeks it has begun, the great detachment that comes with transitioning from babyhood to full-blown toddler. My husband noticed it when we were preparing for his birthday party. “You aren’t my little baby anymore, you’re my big boy now,” he remarked wistfully while bear-hugging our son.
This wasn’t the first wave-off, either. Just the other night when it was time to leave Grandma’s house he waved us both off and cried when we said he had to come, too. The child who wouldn’t let me so much as sneak back to the car for his high-chair a few months ago is now happy to let me leave the premises without so much as a second glance.
“See how much you’re loved?” I shouted to his grandmother from the car. She had every right to be thrilled, and, truthfully, I was happy for her. After all, this is why I trucked my son to her house week after week, so he’d have a good relationship with his grandparents. Right?
Later on that evening, after we put our boy to bed, it hit me, hard. “My little boy didn’t want to come home with me,” I said, knowing full well that he didn’t totally understand the idea of us leaving. Nevertheless, the whole idea troubled me enough to grumble, “We need to have another one,” to which my husband and I both laughed. Although we’ll be happy to welcome another child when that time comes, that baby will never be this one. This child’s baby days are truly behind us. Our laughter was bittersweet.
To be totally honest I’m quite proud of my little man’s willingness to let go. It’s normal. It’s healthy. A friend of mine who happens to be a child psychologist by trade recently watched my little guy run off to join the other kids who were playing. “He’s securely attached,” she remarked with a reassuring smile. He knows I’m here if he needs me. Running off to play is my son’s way of reminding me I’m doing a good job as a mom.
Experts have deigned the first three years of a child’s life as “critically important for the child’s social and cognitive development.” Expounding on this idea in her book Being There, Erica Komisar observes that the more time a mother is able to spend with her child during this critical period “…means she will have a greater chance of being emotionally secure and resilient to stress as well as being better able to regulate her emotions throughout life, read others’ social cues, achieve a higher emotional intelligence, and connect with others intimately.”
The transition from baby to toddler goes so fast. It can be tough to bid farewell to the baby stage, but don’t forget to enjoy the good fruit borne through all your hard work. When your child is letting go in a healthy and normal way, it’s his way of telling you that you’re doing a great job.