I should have seen the signs.

I knew it was going to happen one day, but I didn’t think it would be like this. So soon, in public, with no one to console me but the half price Ferrero Rocher stand at the end of the aisle.

Last week, walking down one particular aisle made me realise my baby wasn’t my baby any more. I didn’t think it would happen like this and so soon.

In Rob Lowe’s recent memoir, Love Life, he wrote a beautiful chapter about the fatherly meltdown he experienced sending his eldest son off to college. In it he lamented that he was emotionally blindsided, so much so that he found himself in hidden corners of his home where he couldn’t stop crying. Realising that Rob Lowe has a kid old enough for college had me in hidden corners crying, too. My teenage crush has adult children! Gah, I’m getting old.

But I empathised with the loss and fear he felt sending his greatest achievement out into the world to fend for himself. What I didn’t know is that feeling can hit you at any time without warning during their short time with you.

I still call Millie my baby girl. If she asks for anything, I immediately answer with, ‘Sure baby girl’. To me, she is still that sweet, toothless, chubby little thing attached to my hip that smiles at anyone who looks her way. The reality is anything but.

She walks, runs or somersaults wherever she goes. She talks in lengthy, opinionated sentences about things like gymnastics and my eyebrows. She shuts the door when she goes to the toilet and haughtily tells me she needs ‘privacy, mummy’, and don’t get me started on trying to dress her. ‘I can do it,’ she’ll say tersely, before emerging from her room with every headband I’ve ever given her on her head teamed with every necklace she owns and a flimsy summer dress in the middle of winter.

But I dare not criticise her fashion sense because the mega meltdown about our fashion differences is not worth it; I simply stuff a jumper in my bag ready for when she will ask for it.

She feeds herself now, obviously, and knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and don’t you dare try to hide a pea anywhere. She can sense one like a princess on a pile of mattresses. All these things and more should have warned me that she is no longer a baby, not even a toddler, and yet I didn’t see it until I wandered down the baby aisle of the supermarket. For the first time in three years, I didn’t need a thing.

Not a nappy, a spare Sippy cup or a fruit squeezy. I had no reason to be there. I should have been thrilled; finally I was free of that aisle, no more over-priced items parading as baby necessities clogging up my receipts.

And yet my heart dropped and I wanted to lie on the floor and throw a tanty like a tired toddler – or hide in a corner and cry.

My baby had slipped through my fingers in aisle 10 of Coles and transformed into a little girl.