Tonight, I tucked in my 4-year-old for the last time and as I left the room, it felt like I had tucked away an era of parenting.

Tomorrow our youngest and last child turns 5 which means I’ve become quite sentimental lately. What is it about the age of 5 that makes a child seem so much older than age 4? I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Perhaps it’s because a 5-year-old can go to Kindergarten while a 4-year-old still qualifies for story time at the library with other preschoolers.

Maybe it’s because 5-year-olds can express themselves with words more easily than a 3 or 4-year-old who is more likely to throw a tantrum if things don’t go his or her way.

age 5 is an end of an eraAs I began reflecting on why I’m sentimental about my son’s 5th birthday, I noticed some things in our house. Or rather, I noticed some things missing from our house that had at one time seemed so permanent.

Our kitchen no longer has baby spoons and bibs shoved into a drawer with old rags and kitchen towels. I threw away the sippy cups when we moved a year ago. The lids were dinged up and I could see chew marks on almost every cup. Around the table, the absence of high chairs and booster seats is a fading memory.

Tucked away in a closet that used to hold a pack n’ play are games like Sorry, Chutes and Ladders and Connect Four. That stroller I used for our first child is long gone, as is the double stroller I replaced it with when our youngest turned 1.

Our car has booster seats where complicated car seats were once strapped in with hooks, buckles and a forceful test by my husband to make sure everything was secured correctly. If grandparents want to take the kids in their own car now, it’s a simple task to pull the booster seats out.

In the bedrooms, we no longer have a changing table full of diapers, wet wipes, creams, snot removers and extra burp cloths. The bins of clothes divided by months are long gone. I remember how full my 0-3 month bin of girl clothes once was. The bedtime songs have begun to fade away as well but they still creep up every once in awhile.

The bathroom is missing a potty chair and the toothbrushes on the sink look much older than the cute little baby toothbrushes we used to scrub at their tiny little baby teeth.

Don’t get me started on our books. I have entire shelves of board books that we haven’t read in over a year. You better believe I pulled one out to read tonight just because I’m the Mom and I can do what I want. And yes, I have “Moo, Baa La-la-la” memorized. Currently, my oldest  is reading Harry Potter books, our middle child is reading basic chapter books and the almost 5-year-old would rather look at an “I Spy” book.

With my youngest turning 5 tomorrow, I truly do see an end of an era in our parenting. I’ll never forget the day a few months ago when I was standing in the back of church watching a young mom hold her first and only child. It suddenly struck me that I wasn’t her anymore. I was no longer a “young mom” with a baby on her hip. I had moved beyond that phase in parenting.

While I knew the phase of endless diapers, sleepless nights, crying babies, potty training, and constant discipline would one day come to an end, (and there were days I hoped it would come sooner rather than later), I didn’t realize it had already snuck up on me so quickly!

I tried really hard to treasure the baby/toddler/preschool phase of parenting because that’s what every mom who has gone before has told me to do. And every mommy blogger guilts me into that same sentiment, too. So believe me when I say I tried.

I tried to treasure each squishy baby hand, toddler kiss, and late nights of nursing. I committed to memory (or my phone) as many toddler language mishaps as possible. With every “first” I tried as hard as possible to soak it all in.

But still, it all had to end.

Tomorrow I step into a new phase of parenting. One of my sister-in-laws told me that I’m entering the “golden years.” Tomorrow I will have a 9, 7 and 5-year-old. They are young enough to still enjoy being around their parents and old enough to be able to do a lot of things we can all enjoy together. Because let’s be honest: there is nothing to enjoy about Caillou if you’re 5 or older.

I’m excited about phase 2 of this parenting gig. I am grieving the loss of phase 1, but I am ready for phase 2. I know there are many more phases to come . . . oh my do I know this. And if you’re a mom a few years ahead of me, do a sister a favor and give me some pointers and advice, ok? Please tell me all those things no one told you about parenting elementary age kids. While we’re at it, I’ll take any advice from any mom who has successfully raised human beings to adulthood.

Someday, these 3 precious kids of mine will actually leave my house. It’s hard to imagine but I know it’s true. Now that I know these phases really do end, I can’t help but wonder how my mom did it. During my first week of college, I remember her either emailing or calling me to say how hard it was for her to go in and clean out my room after I’d moved out. I pictured her boxing up my things with memories of my childhood running through her head.

This is what I’m mentally doing now. I’m boxing up as many memories as possible of the baby/toddler/preschool years. I’m going back and rewatching videos of those cute toddler voices and funny baby faces. I will grieve the end of this season of life, but I will grieve with joy. It’s healthy to say good-bye to a hard but good season. They were good years in so many ways.

Ok. I think I’m ready to transition into phase 2 of parenting. Good luck to all of you parents out there still in phase 1. I won’t tell you how fast it goes because you already know fast it is going. Plus, you may want to punch the next person who reminds you of this and I’d prefer it not be me. I will tell you this, though: you can do it. Literally, millions of moms and dads have gone before you and come out ok. You can do this!