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    My daughter Manika is now a year and six months old. It’s been an interesting year or so, to say the least, a mix of happy, tiring, fulfilling, and frustrating. I look back at her pictures from a year ago and marvel at the difference. She no longer has the baby fat that everyone cooed over at six months old. Back then, she’d just begun rolling over and propping herself up with her hands. I wasn’t the kind of mom who enjoyed complete infant dependence, and every act of self-reliance made my heart leap. 

    Unlike many of my mommy friends, I didn’t dread watching her grow on her own. I remember dreaming she was already talking, and I recall feeling utterly relieved, amused, and accomplished all at the same time. But I had to wake up, of course, and find my child needing all of me 24/7. Back then, it felt more like a duty rather than a privilege.

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    On Manika’s first summer with us, I decided to finally quit my full-time job and be a work-at-home mom. My husband, a high school teacher, had a whole month free to stay home as well, so we set up an inflatable swimming pool on our roof deck and gave our child her first taste of the water. When we put her in her baby float, she instinctively began kicking and moving from one end of the pool to the other, squealing with glee in the process. My heart leapt with joy over this milestone. 

    On days when the weather was too hot to be spent indoors, I’d pack snacks and drinks in a basket, and off we’d go to the nearby university campus to have a picnic. My daughter couldn’t walk or stand on her own yet, but she’d stare in wonder at the other kids riding bikes, playing badminton, or just simply running around in a game of habulan. I’d watch them, too, and imagine her joining their ranks someday. We both dreamed of that day when she would finally be able to play. 

    Now on her second summer, Manika is already a toddler. She’s now running around, babbling nonstop, asserting her independence by yanking her hand free whenever I try to rein her in. I’ve slowly begun to understand what it is that makes parents yearn for the infant years. Every time she yanks her hand away, my heart fills with a certain kind of sadness—I am glad she is developing well and healthily as she should, but I feel somewhat… abandoned. Will my daughter wish to be free of me so soon? Will the day come when she decides she no longer needs me? 

    Then, I hear her call me: “Mama?” And just like that, my fears dissipate. To hear her say that word with intent, with full knowledge that those two syllables refer to me, to see her look up at me with longing, smiling her goofy, eight-toothed grin—I feel my entire being melt into a puddle. She wants me, she needs me. So I scoop her up in my arms, happy— no, ecstatic—because she still needs all of me, despite her independence. I’ll revel in this ecstasy for as long as she calls me, for as long as I live.

    This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of Smart Parenting magazine.

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