As I hoisted my youngest son out of his crib for the final time last summer, hours before it would be disassembled and carted unceremoniously to the curb, I held him to me for an extra beat and pondered how strange it was. A routine task I’d done every day, often multiple times a day, was disappearing. No more remembering to lift with my legs not my back, no more gymnastics to change the mattress. It was like learning I wouldn’t brush my teeth or wear shoes anymore.
In truth, I kept my second son in a crib far longer than I should have. He was older than 3 and quite capable of climbing out but somehow never tried. I was stalling because I didn’t want him running out of his room at all hours — nor did I want to face the hassle of having bunk beds delivered to our walk-up. But I was also stalling because I didn’t want to say goodbye to that crib, any crib. He is almost certainly my final child, and switching to a big-boy bed meant the closing of a chapter not just in his life but mine, too. I’m a mom of little kids, not a mom of babies.
Cribs are the shiny centerpiece of new parenthood. They are the focal point of the nursery, the big-ticket item at the shower. Like a lot of new parents, I agonized over what crib to get for my first child, visiting stores and endlessly searching online. I settled on a modern Babyletto Mercer crib that had storage for sheets and converted into a toddler bed. So practical! But before fully committing, I wrote an extremely earnest email to the manufacturer to ensure the crib met new federal safety standards that required stronger slats and mattress supports as well as hardware that could “withstand vigorous shaking by toddlers.” In an equally earnest email, an employee assured me this crib already met the new standards, even before they went into effect.
The bad news was that only an espresso version of the crib was available online, and I wanted — needed — white. We special-ordered the crib from a gruff manager at a Manhattan furniture store and borrowed our friend’s Subaru Forester to haul it to Brooklyn. I bought a hand-painted vintage mobile from Germany and blue and white polka dot sheets that I imagined would be the backdrop of our monthly baby photo shoots.
I took tons of photos of my finished crib, the mattress on the highest setting and filled with stuffed animals/suffocation hazards that of course we would remove before baby came home. I try to put myself back into that truly naive frame of mind: Did I think having a beautiful, rigorously safety-tested crib meant I was prepared for this massive life change? That a quirky but modern nursery meant I’d be a good mother? There was so much I didn’t know then, couldn’t prepare for or expect, but my son’s crib was Pinterest-worthy. As a wiser friend told me at the time, “The gear doesn’t really matter, but it makes you feel better.”
Of course my colicky eldest son didn’t sleep in the crib for the first months of his life, preferring to squirm on my chest all night or thrash around in the bassinet next to my bed. His first night atop those polka dot sheets he cried for hours, not exactly what I envisioned when scrolling through Pottery Barn Kids bedding. Sure, I took the monthly photos in the crib, but I didn’t post the screaming outtakes on Facebook.
When our second child came, I had no time for special ordering. I bought him the second-cheapest crib from Ikea. I didn’t buy new sheets. And we never even bothered to remove the safety warning stickers from the crib’s top rail.
The last night I placed my youngest in that perfectly adequate crib, I sat on the foot of my older son’s bed and cringed at those safety stickers as I sang my boys their nightly lullaby, which for reasons I don’t remember is “Down by the Bay.” I threw in a few extra verses that night — “Did you ever see a whale with a polka dot tail?” — trying to sear every detail in my memory. Our reliable nighttime routine was changing.
For years, there is so much focus on the firsts. First words, first solid foods, first steps, first day of school. But suddenly the lasts come hurtling at you. Now some of these lasts are good. Last diapers? Thrilling. Last day-care payment? A minor miracle. But the thing with lasts is you don’t always realize they are happening. I didn’t know it was the final time I’d nurse my younger son; he just wouldn’t latch the next time I tried. I didn’t realize it was the last time my older son would agree to participate in pajama day at school. The next year, he just said it was embarrassing. When is the last Christmas that they both believe in Santa? Is this the last time my older son will hug me at school drop-off? Every time could be the last. With the crib, I was able to schedule my “last,” and that final good-night felt like a gift.
And that last, of course, led to another first: the first night in bunk beds. My youngest wouldn’t stay in his bottom bunk, indeed running out of the room and trying to climb into the top bunk repeatedly. And since the bed rail hadn’t arrived, I heard a thunk at 6 a.m. and found him hysterical on the floor. (Sometimes, it turns out, the gear does matter.) His bunk bed behavior hasn’t really improved. On nights that he’s particularly ornery, when my husband is traveling and I need the boys to just go to sleep, I’ve even threatened to bring back the crib. But he and I both know that’s a lie. There are no babies in our house anymore.
Carrie Melago is a journalist and mother of two boys living in Brooklyn. She’s an editor at Chalkbeat, the education news network, and has worked at the Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News. Follow her on Twitter @carriemelago.