I packed up all the baby bottles last week, dumping them in a grocery bag, searching for spare nipples and bottle tops, a cap that was hiding in the back of the kitchen cabinet.

When I was done, I stood there for a while, staring at the empty shelf.

Itís hard to remember what we used that space for before, prior to bottles and sippy cups. That was 8 years ago, but it might as well be a lifetime -- life before kids.

As I cleared out all the bottles, I couldnít help but think it was another ďlastĒ for us. Our baby girl, our little caboose, turned 2-years-old the next day. Most of the bottles hadnít been used in a while, but I hadnít quite gotten around to donating them, either.

As a mom of three kids, Iím taking my time with my youngest. While I was quick to switch my two other babies to sippy cups or to put them on solid food or to coax them to crawl, Iíve slowed down with my last child. Iím no longer in a rush to meet all the milestones and go on to the next stage.

The last child is the one you savor.

Our last child is the one who gets all those extra hugs, the one that I donít mind trying to rock to sleep, if only she would let me, because I know now how quickly the baby phases go by. Sheís the one that I didnít coach into walking early, even though she took her first step at barely 9 months old anyway. While our two oldest children were in a toddler bed by 18 months, our youngest child at 2 has yet to climb out of the crib, and Iím perfectly fine with that. I know the day will come, sooner rather than later. And when I dismantle that crib, the one that looks like itís been attacked by a beaver with all the bite marks up and down the rails from our three kids, I know itís done itís job. When I pack that crib up in the attic, itís not coming out of storage any time soon.

While we look forward to everything that is before us, I know that as I pack up those little smocked bubble outfits, those handmade bonnets or baby blankets, Iím saving them for a future generation, one that is far away. But weíve already sold or given away the bigger baby gear, the exer-saucer and swing, the infant carrier car seat.

While our jogging stroller is tattered, its red fabric faded from the sun, we keep using it anyway. Itís made its way through three kids, and thereís no real point in buying a new one just to make it through the last leg of this marathon of parenthood weíve been on.

This particular phase of my motherhood is drawing to a close.

But as I woke my youngest daughter on her second birthday last week, as I dressed her, buckling her light pink sandals onto her chubby little feet and pulling her blonde hair into bow, she wrapped her arms around my neck and squeezed tight.

ďI love you, Mama,Ē my toddler told me.

ďI love you too, Eliza,Ē I replied.

This one phase is ending, but another is beginning. Iím welcoming the ďterrible 2sĒ and all that it brings.

-- Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.