It’s an unspoken milestone: the day we realize our babies are no longer babies. I mean really not babies. Not when they’re eating whole food or walking or saying “Mommy,” or throwing a tantrum in the supermarket. I mean when they are suddenly kids. Full stop.
My kids, like yours, grow up a little every day. Some days I barely notice it, we get caught up in our routines and the day passes like any other. We go to soccer and Target and to the lake, we get haircuts and visit the dentist and eat dinner and breakfast; we talk and we play, we brush teeth and buckle and unbuckle and do it all over again. But some days the growing-upness of it all is all I see; how my daughter looks like such a big girl as she trots merrily down the sidewalk, how my youngest son’s eyes twinkle as he tells a silly joke. It’s my oldest son who’s been pulling on my heart strings lately. With his scruffy hair, his suddenly-taller stance, the new fluidity in his movements; his yearning to grow older/bigger/taller in every possible way. His sudden otherness. He’s not my baby anymore, I find myself thinking, even though he’ll always be my baby. My other two are younger (one just turned 3, and other is hurdling toward 2). I know these stages. I know how to soothe an owie, how to hide veggies in smoothies; I’ve read all the sleep-training books and bought the right pajamas for the right seasons before.
It’s different with your first. Not better; not worse. Just different. You’ve never done any of it before. Everything is new; a first not only for the child but for the parent as well. We’ve all heard the cliches: As a parent, you never quite know what you’re doing. Just when you’ve got it figured out, they change on you suddenly. You can almost feel their childhood slipping through your fingers, as the long days turn into short years. The thing about all these old sayings is they’re painfully true. Parenting is a fine balance of holding on, and letting go – somehow at the same time.
“Maybe I could go to the playground on my bike by myself one day,” muses my big boy. I nip that thought in the bud, but then realize that he will ride his bike to the playground one day (not this summer though!).
It seems like in actions or in words, he’s asking for more little freedoms, like a little bird flying farther and farther from my nest every day. “You can lay next to me for a minute,” he offers every night. Some days I see it as a stall tactic. I want to go eat ice cream and drink wine and watch The Walking Dead! Some days I can’t, his little brother will keep coming out of his room. But these days, I can’t say no to cuddles with my little man. I take what I can get, filling my nose with his little boy scent and laughing with him at his little boy questions. I love his little boy-ness; I drink it in in big gulps the way he did his chocolate milk at dinner.
When I was pregnant, all I wanted was a healthy baby, as though it was some sort of finish line. Little did I realize, it was only the beginning. The truth is, as a mother, you always worry. To be honest, I’m not even much of a worrier. I tend not to stay up at night thinking of things that have yet to be. Worry isn’t the right word anyway; the word has a hand-wringing, vaguely sexist, negative connotation to it that doesn’t suit me. It’s more that with each child, a piece of you has changed and you’ll never be the same. It’s the in-betweens. The pauses between thoughts. The back-of-your-mind wondering. The part of you that’s always with your children.
My toddler isn’t a baby anymore.
My preschooler isn’t a toddler anymore.
My kindergartener isn’t a preschooler anymore.
My pre-teen isn’t a little kid anymore.
My teenager isn’t a kid anymore.
I realize now, that every stage and every moment is fleeting, to be replaced only by an entirely new stage, with a new set of rules and expectations and changes that we’ll learn together. And you know what? Our kids aren’t the only ones evolving, growing, and changing. We are too. In ways we don’t see every day. He’s not even 6 yet. I’m not even 36 yet. He’s not the only one who still has growing up to do.
I can only hope that one day, I’ll be an older woman, marveling at how my 45 year old son isn’t in his 30s anymore. Wondering how I suddenly have lines around my eyes, from laughing with my children.
Tomorrow my kids will wake up a day older than they were yesterday. They’ll be a little wiser, stand just a little taller, know just a little bit more about the world and maybe (if I’m lucky) – listen a little more. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll wake up a little wiser; stand a little taller, know just a little bit more and listen – if they’re lucky…a little more.
READER TASK: Imagine if we marveled at our own growth the way we do our children! What badges of honors and milestones would you proudly post about yourself? Did you make a new friend, try a new class, or speak up for yourself? I would love to hear in the comments below!