I sold my children’s crib last week. When I share that news, I announce it gravely, with a generous side of melancholy. There are two reactions people have to my mundane bit of news. One camp says, “Great, how much did you sell it for?” They don’t get it. The other clucks sympathetically; they do.
A super-nice couple who wants the crib for their visiting grandson came over to get it. I liked them. I think the crib is going to a good home. And yet: I can’t stop thinking about it.
Sure, it’s just a piece of furniture — wooden slats and foam mattress and sheets dotted with baby animals that were washed to an impossible softness after countless launderings. But it’s really so much more. If you have a crib, it means you have a baby. No crib equals no baby, no baby equals no crib — either way, selling that rectangular jail cell feels incredibly profound. (More on Time.com: Study: Breast-Feeding Moms Get Just as Much (or Little) Rest as Formula-Feeders)
I watched the self-proclaimed hippie grandma and grandpa carry each crib rail up one set of stairs and down another, then lean them against a tree as they loaded each piece into their beat-up van. I even helped them, chattering cheerfully as I lugged the centerpiece of my children’s nursery up, down and out. I smiled. I watched the nice couple drive away. Then I came inside and cried.
My grandma, no longer alive, gave us that crib. It has been in continuous use for the past seven years and 11 months, nestling first one son, then a daughter, then another. These days, there is so much baby gear to be accumulated. Boppys and Bumbos and Brest Friends, all new inventions that didn’t exist when my parents were raising me. Though there are now far sleeker and shapelier iterations, the crib in its basic structure still endures. Four sides, vertical bars, a comfy sleeping surface (but not too comfy, caution the SIDS educators; baby could suffocate). Cribs remain the one essential baby item, a must-have for everyone except hard-core co-sleepers. When you’re expecting, nothing makes impending motherhood seem as real as assembling the crib. It screams “baby on board.” And then it — and the baby — are gone, and I am left feeling bereft. My youngest turned 3 in June. It was long past time for her to bid goodbye to her “cribbie.” (More on Time.com: The ‘Mommy Brain’ Is Bigger: How Love Grows a New Mother’s Brain)
Yet I am struck by the emotions that selling the crib have raised. There are shelves upon shelves of books out there telling you more than you could ever want to know about ages and stages, what to feed when, how to change a baby, how to bathe a baby, how to expose newborns to red, black and white objects (books! toys!) because those are the only colors they can see at first. There are scores of volumes on child development. But where are the experts waiting to advise me on mother development?
There are mothers — and fathers — who can’t wait for their infant to grow up, to walk, to talk, to be a “real person.” But I love everything about babies.
There are parents who count down the days until their child starts kindergarten. The day my youngest reaches that milestone, I know I’ll feel as unmoored as an empty-nest parent depositing her last child at college. (More on Time.com: “Mompetition”: Why You Just Can’t Make Mom Friends)
Yet for months now, I’ve noticed my status changing. I’m no longer the mom shlepping the unwieldy infant carseat. I have no need for a diaper bag. High chairs, infant teethers, baby touch-and-feel books have all marched steadily out of my house. But the crib? That feels like the door slamming shut.
Who better to offer perspective on my uneasy feelings than the woman who led my childbirth class? At our last session back in 2002, Laura Conrad had handed out a short poem she once found called “Stop and Smell the Babies.” As a writer, its simplistic cadence and treacly verse made me want to roll my eyes. But I knew its admonition to slow down and revel in each child’s babyhood was advice worth taking.
When I spoke with Laura the other day, she summed up my feelings perfectly, invoking a friend who’d spoken some serious words of wisdom: “Watching your babies grow up,” the friend said, “is like being fired from a job that you really liked doing.”
Of course, I’m not going to keep having babies just so I can hang on to that job; that smacks too much of Octomom. Anyway, it’s not like the job really ends. Ever. It just changes, as it should. Still, I can’t help but miss that crib.