Monday, May 30, 2005

When Do They Stop Being Babies?

by Paulla Estes

We all know the definition of a baby, if there is such a thing; it is a tiny person who can not yet take care of himself. A baby usually cannot walk or feed himself or use the bathroom by himself or clean up after himself. A baby is utterly dependent on other human beings for his complete care. If this is the definition of a baby, then when does a child stop being a baby?

Once babies begin to walk, we no longer call them babies: they become toddlers. Once babies begin to talk and communicate with us, we might still call them toddlers or just small children. When babies are old enough to use the bathroom on their own and feed themselves without too much fuss, they usually graduate to the status of being called preschoolers. Once they start kindergarten, learn to read, and establish friendships, they are known as children and the baby days seem to be long gone.

But ask any mom and she will tell you conflicting things about the definition of a baby. Most moms will agree that the definitions listed above are accurate in general, but when a mom refers to her own child, the line between being her baby and being a toddler, preschooler, child, teen, or even adult, is very fuzzy.

If you have ever seen the book, Love you Forever, you'll know what I mean. The tiny young mother in the book cuddles her newborn son, whispering cherishing words into his ear about how she'll love him forever and how he will always be her baby. As he grows into a naughty toddler, she continues to visit his bedside each night with the same sentiments. When he becomes a rambunctious little boy, playing with other rambunctious little boys, she still visits his sleeping form and whispers the promising words of love. This continues as the boy grows into a teen and even young adult. Finally comes the day when the boy is grown and moves away new a new home. In the night, the mother drives her car to the young man's home, climbs a ladder up into his bedroom window, and secretly whispers the loving sentiments into his sleeping ear.

The story would be perfect if it ended there, but it does not. The reader assumes that the boy never really realized what was being whispered to him as he slept through all his growing-up years, for each time she told him these things, he was asleep. But the story takes a turn when the son is now well into adulthood and the little mother is in failing health. She wants to go visit her son but she is too weak, so he drives to her home and goes to her bedside; he picks her tiny form up into his big, strong arms and holds her close. The reader chokes back tears as the son gently rocks his mother and whispers into her ear the same words she has whispered to him since infancy. The scene is touching as we see how the love of a mother has impacted her son; he has turned out much like her.

Yet we see this even more in the next surprising scene. The son goes back to his own home and visits the bedside of his tiny newborn daughter. He takes her from her crib and cuddles her, rocking her, and whispering the same loving words, assuring her that she will always be his baby.

So the question still remains, when does a baby stop being a baby? Ask any mother and she might say, never.

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