My son asked for some lunch today and it broke my heart a little, not because I begrudge him food, but because I automatically understood his request without my brain having to run his words through spell check. When you’re a parent, you become kind of bilingual without realizing it. Not legitimately bilingual — specifically, disposably bilingual. After all, someone has to translate Little Muffin’s gibberish for the world. In my case, I speak fluent Cole — a pidgin language bridging the gap between babyhood and boyhood in which lello means yellow, confingo means flamingo, and munch means lunch. But, we didn’t have munch today. We had lunch and I cried.

Cole is edging ever closer to four. Though technically still three, it’s been months since he has borne any of the characteristic plumpness of toddlerhood. Instead, he embodies that classic “sentient ball of knees and elbows” look of a young boy. He is articulate for his age, but there have always been a handful of words that elude him, much to our amusement. I told my husband, early on, that I didn’t have the heart to correct his more persistant pronunciation mistakes because once they were gone that would be it. The sweet innocence of saying “fink” instead of “think” would be gone forever. Lello was the first casualty, quietly replaced one day by a bigger, better vocabulary. I blame the schools. Lately, he’s been correcting himself when we watch Shrek, saying Fiona instead of By-ona. Obviously, I want my son to grow into a fine, articulate man, but I can’t help but feel wistful as his speech matures. It is the last vestige of babyishness that he has left and I’m watching it dissipate. When “swimming cool” gives way to “swimming pool,” I will be a basketcase.

I’m not sure why I have this sudden urge to press pause. Perhaps it’s because I know there will be no more babies, so I’m urgently trying to make this phase last as it eeks out it’s final breaths. In a year that’s seen our family expand, relocate, and weather a mountain of other changes, we’ve been operating in “keep your head down and keep moving” mode. I fear that one day I will look up and there will be great, lumbering men where my babies once were. I’m reliving all those moments when a well-meaning older parent told me to “cherish this time because babies don’t last” while I was covered in vomit, being chewed on by a screaming infant. I’m realizing there was truth in what they said even though, at the time, I found their sentiment tone deaf because I was struggling. All is not lost, though. The baby speaks Wookiee, so there is still time.