Photo: Kristin Van de Water

“Emily’s a baby! Emily’s a baby!” chanted my twins’ 1st-grade classmate.

“I’m not a baby. I’m 4 years old,” my preschooler rebutted matter-of-factly. Thank goodness she has thick skin.

Unfortunately, my two-year-old is a sponge for good and bad behavior, so she parroted back, “Emily’s a baby!”

“I’m not a baby. You’re the baby,” Emily replied. “You’re two.”

“I’m not a baby. I’m a big girl. I’m two and-a-half,” my toddler insisted.

The other day, my two-year-old even went so far as to march around the apartment, exclaiming, “I’m bigger than you!” to all siblings and parents in sight. At 35″, that clearly wasn’t true. But it highlights the yearning my littlest one has to measure up to her older siblings as she transitions from baby to child.

My older kids understand that sometimes it’s appropriate to give their sister what she’s crying for or grabbing at just because she’s little. But as her third birthday approaches, she can’t play that card much longer, especially when she, herself, insists that she’s a big girl.

As the youngest of four children, my two-year-old often defaults into the baby category in my mind. I catch myself being more lenient with her than I was when my others were her age. (I don’t force her to finish her veggies. I reserve the spot on my lap for her. She hordes family toys as her own and we let it slide.) I’m realizing more and more that my defiant little cave woman needs some clear boundaries and behavioral standards appropriate for a nearly three-year-old.

As a result, I have been determined to cut out the remaining vestiges of babyhood before my daughter begins preschool in the fall. That means phasing out:

  1. Pacifiers
  2. Naps
  3. Strollers
  4. Diapers

Apparently being a big kid loses its charm when it means saying goodbye to what has been present your entire life. My two-year-old has been caught in the no-man’s land of toddlerhood, where her words can’t quite keep up with the whirlwind of emotions that comes with being tugged in two directions. The result? Plenty of tantrums and my older kids giving her the nickname “Boss Baby.”

One minute she’d be staking her claim on big-kid status. Then the next, she’d pop out of the bathtub and plead, “Wrap me up and rock me like a baby. Sing ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby.’” When it came it strollers and naps, my daughter wanted to be a big kid. But when it came to pacifiers and diapers, she wanted to be a baby.

We crossed pacifiers and naps off the list in a 1-2 punch. Thankfully a few minutes of tears, lullabies, and extra tuck-me-ins at bedtime was all it took to break out of the dependence on her pacifier. Ever since then, she has refused her nap, popping out of bed incessantly without the motivating comfort of a pacifier to keep her horizontal. No naps meant surrendering the hour of “me time” I would use to recharge in the afternoon, but at least it was one less item to tackle before September.

A gust of wind that nearly toppled our stroller with my toddler in it left her afraid to use the stroller for a week. While she does ask to use it periodically, that week of walking or bussing to various outings revealed just how capable she is of striding out. She can walk 10 blocks or more with gusto when she sets her mind to it, insisting that we leave the stroller at home. Now I see that, when I’m ready to bite the bullet and not have the stroller along to carry our gear, my daughter will be more than ready to walk independently.

So that leaves potty training as our current focus. I’ve heard that kids can hang onto their diapers as a final connection to their babyhood, and that seems to be the case for us.

When picking out underwear and bringing the little pink potty out of storage didn’t motivate my daughter enough to let go of her diapers, I realized we would need to take a cold turkey approach.

As we watched the last pack of diapers dwindle, we talked about how the daytime diapers were almost gone and soon she would get to wear undies all day long just like Mommy and her big sisters.

And so, one day we found ourselves heading out to playgroup wearing the final diaper. We set my phone alarm to play music for our hourly “potty dance” on the way to the bathroom. After an entire morning holding everything in, the age-old M&M bribery trick worked its wonders as she squeezed a few drops of pee into her tiny potty. We were so excited, we all ate celebratory M&Ms (which had the added bonus of getting my older kids on board as cheerleaders in the potty-training process).

My 6-year-old daughter had the brilliant idea of creating a sticker chart for her little sister—which turned out way cooler than if I had made one myself—and posted it on the fridge. I had thought about trying a chart, but it seemed like too much work for something I didn’t think would have much motivating power. Boy was I wrong. Adding stickers has become the biggest incentive of all.

Two weeks and a few dozen accidents later, with my patience worn thin and our M&M supply depleted, we celebrated a major potty-training milestone today. Perhaps in honor of my husband’s birthday and the plate full of cake she gobbled down, my daughter called us all over to present a birthday present only a parent of a toddler could fully appreciate: a poop, perfectly placed in the big potty.

That deposit secured her big-kid status in my book. Check it off the list, and bake that birthday cake. Three years old, here we come!