Vedu had her 18th month vaccination today. Relatively new parents would know that this is a pain in the ass vaccination for both the baby and the parents because of the high fever and pain for one or two days. It isn’t any different for us either. In fact, I just came back from calming her down for the fifth time in one hour. Every once in a while she kept saying “kaalu”, which is Malayalam for leg, to tell us that it hurts where the injection was taken. It felt really bad to hear her say that and cry. But it also made me realize that this is the first time she is expressing in words what bothered her.

Yes, she has always been a talker, just like me, from the time she could make noises. And she can go on lengthy animated monologues with the slightest encouragement from the listener. In fact, looking at us from a distance and watching her talk with elaborate gestures and expressions, one might get the impression that she is talking in a real language and not gibberish in baby tongue. And I have always believed that although it sounds like gibberish, she is indeed saying something very important, interspersed with jokes (evident from the way she stops to laugh). But today it struck me that for the past 2-3 weeks she has been trying to say some real words and using them correctly in her monologues too.

That got me thinking just how much she has grown up in such a short while. I can still see the tiny pink bundle that suckled on my breast for the very first time only half an hour after she came into this world. From then every day has been about learning, for all of us. But the ease with which she has picked up every bit of knowledge and skill has always amazed me, whether it is eating and sleeping by herself or walking without any support or learning new words. I’m talking about babies in general here. One day they don’t know something; the next day they do. It looks more like a miracle when you look all the way back to the beginning.

Sadly, this most amazing phase is also the shortest. True that to us, she will always be our baby, even when she is all grown up. True that every phase is beautiful, even the terrible twos with all the unbearable tantrums and the rebellious teens. But there is something very special about this initial phase where they learn to survive and enjoy in a whole new world. And let’s admit it – they are the cutest in this phase. Maybe that’s the reason why almost every ‘first birthday’ picture comes with a hashtag or caption – Don’t grow up too fast. This is something every parent feels.

I guess the primary reason for this is that it is in this initial phase that a baby is most dependent on us, the parents. We are the only ones she trusts; we are the only important people in her life. As she grows up she can do things herself, and most importantly, other people start becoming an important part of her life too, like her friends, her teachers. It’s for this reason that the first day of school is more difficult for the parent, not the kid. Suddenly our little girl is not ours alone. We will have to learn to share her with others in her life. There is a world that is hers that she would talk to us about; but no matter how involved we are in it, it’s her world with others, not really a world that we are part of. And the fact that we are not her whole world is not an easy thing to accept and come to terms with. But we do, because that is what is best for her.

So yeah, now you know the real emotion behind the hashtag #Don’tGrowUpTooFast. It means “Please remain this small and this cute always.” But it also means “Please remain our little baby always.” As proud as we are about every single milestone, it breaks our heart a little too knowing that she is growing up.

Also published on Medium.