When Ellie was first born, I held her tiny body against my chest, her little legs folded up under her, her head nestled against my shoulder.
As a first-time parent, I had a hard time imagining that she would ever be anything but this little baby I was only just beginning to know. It seemed impossible to me that she who could barely lift her head would ever be able to roll over, let alone walk, that the whimpers and coos she produced would ever turn into words I would understand. I tried to imagine her with a backpack on her first day of kindergarten, talking to me about boys in high school, going off to college, but I could not. All I could see was this baby who demanded to be fed every few hours, whose cries I could not yet understand.
And so, in my desperation to define my new role as a parent, to establish the expectations for daily life that make me feel safe, I thought, "So this is what being a parent is." I knew that Ellie would not always take an hour to eat, would one day sleep straight through the night, would eventually stop spitting up, but it really, truly felt like my new job as a mother would always be defined by the challenges I faced at the time.
Only recently, as Ellie takes her first steps and experiments with her first words, have I been able to see her as more than a baby. She is a baby still, but she is toddling and babbling her way toward maturity. When I look at her, I see her as she is now, my eager little adventurer, but I can also see her as she will be, imagine her coloring and speaking in sentences and running on the playground.
I know now that she is unfolding before my eyes daily, that my role as a parent is changing as fast as she is. I know now that spit-up does cease and that nighttime sleep eventually improves. I know too that she no longer fits into a little warm bundle on my chest, that to watch her grow is to both gain and lose.